Jordan’s King Abdullah discusses 'normalisation' of Syria situation with President Putin

The monarch is seeking to balance the Kremlin’s interests with Amman’s US ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Jordan's King Abdullah II speak, during their meeting on the side of the International Military Technical Forum Army-2021 in Alabino, outside Moscow, Russia. AP Photo
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Jordan’s King Abdullah met Russian President Vladimir Putin near Moscow on Monday to discuss the situation in Syria and the impact of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The Jordanian monarch is the first Arab leader to meet Mr Putin since the Taliban overran Kabul last week, solidifying their control over most of the country.

The chaotic US withdrawal, which is in its final stages, is raising concerns in the Middle East over American reliability.

Mr Putin said "the normalisation of the situation in Syria and the current escalation in Afghanistan" were "the most pressing maters" on the agenda.

The Russian leader showed King Abdullah some of the military hardware exhibited at Patriot Park in Kubnika, 60 kilometres south-west of Moscow.

Mr Putin said the weaponry was "important in terms of strengthening stability".

The US supplies most of the Jordanian military and the kingdom is a major recipient of US aid.

Russia, however, is a major wheat exporter to Jordan and Mr Putin touted the work of a Jordanian-Russian committee headed on the Russian side by Minister of Agriculture Dmitry Patrushev.

The king has sought to improve security and economic ties with Moscow in recent years, and partly accommodated Russia on Syria.

Last month, the king told CNN the world should be “sympathetic” to the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan but that such a decision could lead to a resurgence in terrorism in the country in a few years.

Pro-Iranian militant groups in the Middle East, particularly Hezbollah, have publicly celebrated the US withdrawal. They say it demonstrates the futility of having the US as an ally.

King Abdullah has met Mr Putin more than a dozen times since he became monarch in 1999.

Security contacts between Jordan and Russia increased after Moscow’s military intervention in Syria in 2015.

Russian firepower propped up the Assad regime, allowing it and Iranian-backed militias to capture most territory held by opposition forces.

Moscow sent troops to Syria’s southern border with Jordan, where Jordanian officials say Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militias are active.

The Kremlin has made it clear it wants Jordan and other Arab countries to normalise relations with the regime of Bashar Al Assad and re-admit Syria to the Arab League. It also wants Arab and western countries to pay for reconstruction in the country.

The Arab League suspended relations with Damascus in November 2011, soon after the regime cracked down on the uprising against five decades of Assad family rule.

King Abdullah has sought to balance Russian requests with Jordan’s ties with the US.

Last month the king said that the Syrian regime has shown “longevity” but that any reconstruction in Syria would need to be tied to political reform.

In the past few weeks, official Jordanian media have touted the potential benefits of improving transport links and trade with areas of Syria controlled by the Assad regime.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled to Jordan in the past decade. Only Lebanon and Turkey have more Syrian refugees.

Unlike Lebanon, Jordan has not put pressure on them to return, saying instead that their safety must come first.

Updated: August 24, 2021, 5:35 AM