Jordan’s King discusses Syria with Trump administration

King Abdullah II is the first Arab leader to meet Congressional leaders after the US midterm elections

Vice President Mike Pence, left, shakes hands with King Abdullah II of Jordan as they walk out of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, following their meeting. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

King Abdullah II of Jordan began his visit to Washington on Monday where he held meetings with the Trump administration, discussing regional security, Syria and relations between the two countries.

The king, who was also in Washington in November, is the first Arab leader to meet US officials and politicians since the Democrats took majority in the US House of Representatives at the midterm elections.

On Monday, King Abdullah met US Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting secretary of defence Patrick Shanahan.

But the main purpose of the three-day visit is to meet Congressional leaders and head of committees to maintain strong relations between the two governments.

The Trump administration increased annual aid to Jordan to $1.3 billion (Dh4.77bn) last February, and there are initiatives to boost economic trade and investments in the kingdom.

Mr Pence’s office said the two leaders discussed relevant matters, the fight against ISIS and regional dynamics.

“The Vice President expressed the administration’s commitment to supporting Jordan’s economy," the office said.

"The two leaders also discussed President Trump’s decision to maintain a residual US presence in Syria and opportunities to work more closely on countering terrorism in the region.”

The US is looking to leave 400 troops in Syria after the defeat of ISIS.

King Abdullah also discussed economic issues, reforms and the situation in Syria with Mr Pompeo and Mr Shanahan.

“The meeting covered the latest developments in the Middle East, efforts to reach political solutions to regional crises and efforts to fight terrorism within a holistic approach,” the Jordanian embassy said.

The king was accompanied by his Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Jordan’s ambassador to the US, Dina Kawar.

Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said Syria was a major item on the agenda.

"The Trump administration is looking to secure Jordanian support for a continued US presence in the controversial Al Tanf encampment in south-eastern Syria," Mr Lister told The National.

Al Tanf is near the Jordan border and, along with US troops stationed there, the camp relies heavily on Jordanian logistical co-operation, Mr Lister said.

Despite its intentions to withdraw most of its troops from Syria, the Trump administration is hoping to keep its presence in Al Tanf because of its strategic location.

“With Jordan’s ongoing re-engagement with the Assad regime and the critical importance of revitalised trade between Amman and Damascus, it’s far from clear that Jordan will be content with sticking its neck out for Al Tanf,” Mr Lister said.

The US has been advising its regional allies against engaging with the Assad regime.

Mr Lister said that in the case of Jordan, after it reopened border crossings and increased its diplomatic presence, “it’s too late for Amman to step back, and they won’t be doing that any time soon".

For Jordan, the main purpose of this visit appears to be being proactive in engaging the new leadership in US Congress, and pushing for political talks and solutions in the region.

King Abdullah has opposed unilateral US moves in Jerusalem, and voiced concerns over the recent escalation in Gaza.

It is unclear if he will meet Mr Trump’s adviser on the peace process, Jared Kushner, on this visit.