US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (R) at the State Department, Jan. 13, 2022. (AFP)

January 15, 2022

Jordan’s top diplomat touched down in Washington last week, where he held meetings with nearly all the top US officials in the Biden administration, making him the first Arab foreign minister to do so this year.

It was also his boss, King Abdullah II, who was the first Arab head of state to visit Washington and meet US President Joe Biden after he was elected.

Ties between Washington and Amman were reportedly strained under the Trump administration, but they have been noticeably bolstered over the last 12 months.

Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi met with his US counterpart, Antony Blinken, on Thursday and described the meeting as “excellent.”

Safadi also held sit-downs with various members of Congress and Pentagon officials.

“As you know, we have strong bilateral ties. The US is the number one supporter of Jordan, and this aid helps us face challenges, including economic issues we face as a result of the various crises that surround us in the region,” Safadi told Al Arabiya during an interview from the Jordanian Embassy in Washington.

“We work towards serving our national interests as well as working towards solving regional issues, which we need to work on collectively, and the Palestinian issue is at the forefront of these issues,” he said shortly before departing Washington.

Apart from discussing ways to work together to find peaceful solutions to the various crises in the Middle East, the main focus of Safadi’s meeting with the top US diplomat was on a new bilateral agreement.

The current agreement, which is set to expire later this year, saw the US assist Jordan with some $1.2 billion last year alone.

An agreement is being worked on for a new memorandum of understanding and for US assistance to continue to Jordan.

“Talks were good, and there is mutual interest from both countries to bolster coordination and ties, as well as to increase coordination to solve regional issues and face mutual obstacles,” Safadi added.

Iran must stop interfering in Arab affairs

Asked about previous comments made by Jordan’s king about a Shia crescent being formed in the Middle East, Safadi said: “The king was speaking from a political point of view, not a sectarian or religious manner, about Iran’s role in the region and any policies that harm Arab interests.”

But Safadi said that all Arab partners want good ties with Iran.

“However, to reach… amicable ties, we must discuss the reasons for the [unstable] Arab-Iranian ties. One of the reasons is Iran’s interference in the Arab region, and this interference must stop in order to build Arab-Iranian ties,” he said.

Palestine

Being one of the first two Arab countries to normalize ties with Israel, Jordan has been called upon by the White House to help ease tensions that boiled over last year between Palestine and Israel.

According to the UN Palestinian refugee agency, there are more than 2 million registered Palestinian refugees living in Jordan.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict was one of the main topics discussed during Safadi’s meetings with various US officials and lawmakers.

Asked about efforts for peace, which were seemingly stalled over the last few years, Safadi said that there was no alternative to a two-state solution.

The only other option would be a one-state solution, which is not viable because “it will institutionalize apartheid,” he said.

Safadi noted that there were revived diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, referencing resumed US aid to Palestine and the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA).

The Biden administration has repeatedly stated the need for a two-state solution and said it would reopen the Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem, declared by Israel as its capital.

“We must build on this momentum,” Safadi said. “It’s an effort that we’re trying to all work on.”

Safadi also referenced the renewed communication with Israel’s new government after former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu essentially closed all doors for diplomatic efforts on the matter.

In an interview with CNN on Friday, he said the previous Israeli government “did a lot to make sure that nothing really worked…”

Ties with the Gulf

Ties between Jordan and Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, are strong, and all sides are working to strengthen cooperation and coordination, Safadi said.

“The [Jordanian] King has repeatedly said that the security of the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia, is part of the security of Jordan,” the foreign minister said. “And we stand with our Gulf brothers in every step they take to protect their security and stability.”

Referencing the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen, Safadi said that Amman continues to condemn the terrorist attacks on Saudi Arabia.

“We stand with [Saudi Arabia] to confront this challenge. And we stand by their efforts to reach a solution to the disastrous Yemen crisis… The Houthis must abide by the agreements they signed, including the Riyadh Agreement and others.”

Safadi added: “Our security is one, our stability is one, and we work together to build a better future for our peoples.”

Lebanon energy deal and Caesar Act sanctions

Jordan’s struggling economy has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic and the continued presence of refugees from Syria and Palestine.

During King Abdullah’s visit to Washington last summer, providing Lebanon with natural gas and electricity was discussed.

This US-backed plan would see Egypt sell natural gas to Lebanon via the Arab Gas Pipeline and Jordan sell electricity to Lebanon via Syria.

This would require transit fees to be paid to Syria, which is under crippling US sanctions to choke off the Assad regime from foreign money.

Since last summer, Beirut, Amman, Cairo and Damascus have reached individual agreements for these plans.

“Agreements have been completed, and there is coordination with the US administration to provide requested guarantees to ensure that there will not be any violation of Caesar Act sanctions,” he said.

Safadi said that it was evident during his talks with US officials over the last week that they want to help Lebanon with this project. “The issue now is a technical one, and we hope that Lebanon will be quickly supplied with electricity and gas,” he said.

Syria and the Assad regime

Jordan is among several Arab countries that have reached out to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in recent months.

King Abdullah held his first public phone call with Assad in a decade last year.

Other Arab moves towards Assad included the UAE foreign minister flying to Damascus and meeting the Syrian president. Last month, Bahrain named its first ambassador to Syria in 10 years.

Although the Biden administration has not openly welcomed any of these moves and advised against recognizing the Assad regime, Safadi said there needed to be a realistic approach to ending the yearslong war.

“We want a solution that ensures the unity, independence and stability of Syria. How we reach a solution, we must be realistic,” he said.

As for Syria being readmitted to the Arab League, the Jordanian diplomat said it was not his decision.

“This is a decision for the Arab League and for all Arab countries to make.”

Safadi also called for an end to all foreign military presence in Syria and lamented the significant decrease of international attention and aid to the plight of Syrian refugees and their host countries.

In coordination with the US and other partners, Jordan is working to find new approaches to end the war, he said.

Al Arabiya

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Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.