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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Syria and peace process top King of Jordan's talks in Washington

King Abdullah II met Mike Pompeo and James Mattis on Friday

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and King Abdullah II of Jordan shake hands during a photo opportunity for members of the news media before their working luncheon at the State Department in Washington, DC. Michael Reynolds/ EPA
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and King Abdullah II of Jordan shake hands during a photo opportunity for members of the news media before their working luncheon at the State Department in Washington, DC. Michael Reynolds/ EPA

King Abdullah II of Jordan started a four-day visit to Washington on Friday where he met with US secretaries of state and defence Mike Pompeo and James Mattis, ahead of a meeting with Donald Trump at the White House on Monday.

The King also met with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Friday, where they discussed Jordanian-US economic and commercial cooperation, increasing commercial exchange, and capitalising on the Free Trade Agreement.

The visit came at a critical time for Jordan following economic protests that forced a change in government this month, and in the midst of rising tension on its border with Syria as Bashar Al Assad readies for a military offence in the south.

Those issues- as well as a speculated US peace plan that Mr Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner discussed in Amman on Wednesday- topped the King’s early talks in Washington.

The Jordanian royal court released a photo of the King with Mr Pompeo in their first meeting in Washington since the US Secretary of State took office .

Mr Pompeo hosted the King for a working lunch with the accompanying delegation.

A readout from the Jordanian embassy in Washington said: “King Abdullah stressed [to Mr Pompeo] the importance of stepping up efforts to relaunch serious and effective Palestinian-Israeli negotiations based on the two-state solution, and leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on Palestinian national soil, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The National reported this week that the King in his meeting with Mr Kushner advocated a viable Palestinian state and a path that would secure Amman’s own interests in Jerusalem.

However, according to the diplomatic correspondent of the Israeli public radio, Gili Cohen, senior Jordanian officials in closed conversations echoed a concern that the “presentation of the Trump administration's peace initiative will ignite internal riots in Jordan”.

Later on Friday, Jordan’s King met Mr Mattis where defence relations and the situation in Syria were expected to top the agenda.

The King emphasised “the importance of supporting efforts to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis through the Geneva process...and to preserve the de-escalation zone in southwestern Syria, which was secured through a trilateral Jordanian-US-Russian agreement”.

Mr Assad is threatening a military offensive in the South, and US senior officials have repeatedly warned against such a move.

Nicholas Heras, a defence fellow at the Center for New American Security, told The National that the Trump administration “wants King Abdullah II to know that Jordan will not sit alone across the table from Russia anymore” over Southwestern Syria.

“The Americans are signalling to both Jordan and Russia that Bashar Al Assad will face consequences if he decides that a military solution is the way to force the armed opposition to accept the bad reconciliation deal that the Russians are offering that would allow Assad to win control over southwest Syria without war,” Mr Heras said.

“This is also about giving leverage back to Jordan... who do not want to be coerced by the Assad regime,” he added.

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The King and US officials also discussed the support of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) whose funding was cut in half by the Trump administration in February.

Its work is critical “to enable it to continue its education, health, and relief services for Palestinian refugees”, the Jordanian statement said.

The US State Department said the meeting besides regional issues touched upon “the US-Jordan economic and commercial partnership”.

“The Secretary underscored US support for Jordan as the King implements critical reforms to promote Jordan’s prosperity and self-reliance,” it said.

Accompanying the King in his meeting with Mr Pompeo were the Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, Royal Adviser Manar Dabbas, and Jordan’s Ambassador to the United States Dina Kawar.

The King is due to meet Mr Trump at the White House on Monday. This will be their first meeting since last September, although the Jordanian leader met Vice President Mike Pence twice since then, once in Washington last November and then in Amman in January.