King Abdullah of Jordan seeks strategic dividends from White House visit

Jordan has the ambition to become a major military basing location for the United States in the region.
Monday 19/07/2021
A file photo shows then-US Vice President Joe Biden (L) meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman on March 10, 2016. (AFP)
A file photo shows then-US Vice President Joe Biden (L) meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman on March 10, 2016. (AFP)

WASHINGTON/ AMMAN - President Joe Biden will host Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House, Monday, as the monarch hopes to see his relationship with the United States return to its former lustre while reaping strategic dividends from the visit.

Relying on good personal ties to Biden,  the Arab king is ambitious to play a more influential role in the region and overcome the long, cold spell encountered in the US-Jordanian relationship under the Donald Trump administration.

“Restoring the relationship to its traditional strength will itself bolster Jordan’s stability, both by sending an unmistakable signal of US support and by creating a fruitful environment to advance the extensive bilateral agenda,” said Ghaith al-Omari and Ben Fishman senior fellows at the Washington Institute in a recently-published analysis.

US-Middle East experts expect Jordan’s king to try to bolster his country’s credentials as a strategic ally of the United States, in the context of Washington’s planned redeployment of troops in the region.

Abdullah, who will be the first Arab leader to visit the White House under Biden, is likely to argue that the kingdom is the best bet for Washington as a base for US troops in the Middle East, instead of their current dispersal around the region and the hostility they face in a place like Iraq.

US military newspaper Stars and Stripes said earlier this month the United States has already closed two Sayliyah camps and the Falcon ammunition supply base in Qatar and transferred the military supplies to Jordan.  The newspaper quoted analysts as saying the move to Jordan “positions Washington to deal better with Iran and reflects the military’s changing priorities in the region.”

Closing the bases and moving the mission to Jordan could benefit the US in potential disputes with Iran, Kamran Bokhari, a national security and policy expert focusing on the region at the Washington-based Centre for Global Policy told the paper.

On Thursday, King Abdullah met the commander of the US Central Command, General Kenneth F McKenzie Jr and the commander of the Special Operations Command, General Richard Clarke. Sources say the meeting discussed ways to enhance strategic cooperation between the two countries, especially in the military and security fields in view of the military basing shifts.

The Jordanian monarch relies on defence agreements between the two countries. The latest was signed January 31 and approved by the government of Bishr al-Khasawneh.

The agreement provides for allocating facilities and areas on Jordanian territory for the exclusive use of the United States forces, without a lease.

It allows the US forces to carry out the transfer, the pre-positioning and storage of equipment and supplies in agreed areas.

This deal could therefore pave the way for Jordan to become a major military basing location for the United States in the region.

This would strengthen to the US and bolster Jordan’s strategic importance in the region. It will also offer the kingdom an insurance policy against being sidelined as was the case during the Trump administration.

Ever since he was a member of Congress, Biden has kept a good personal relationship with King Abdullah. The US president stressed, during a phone call with the Jordanian monarch last April, that Abdullah had a “friend” in the United States on whom he could rely.

The king is betting on this special relationship to play a more active role in the peace process and improve relations with neighbouring Israel.

The kingdom has been the recipient of $1.275 billion per year on average under a five-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in 2018.

The White House said last week Abdullah, Queen Rania and Crown Prince Hussein will visit with the Bidens to “highlight the enduring and strategic partnership between the United States and Jordan.”

The visit comes after Jordanian authorities in April broke up an alleged plot by the half brother of the king. Prince Hamzah was not put on trial but his purported co-conspirators were sentenced to long terms in jail after appearing before the state security court behind closed doors in a rare moment of domestic turmoil.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the visit “will be an opportunity to discuss the many challenges facing the Middle East and showcase Jordan’s leadership role in promoting peace and stability in the region.”