Jordanian King Abdullah’s visit to Washington seeks to turn the page on Trump era

King will be the first Arab leader received by President Joe Biden

Jordanian King Abdullah II looks on as he's received by Iraq's President (unseen) at Baghdad Airport in the Iraqi capital on June 27, 2021. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
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King Abdullah of Jordan’s state visit to Washington next month will hold a much different context to the one he made during the administration of Donald Trump, when US-Jordan relations reached a low point.

The July 19 visit, the first for an Arab leader to the White House since President Joe Biden took office in January, reinforces the special relationship that the kingdom has with this administration.

The Jordanian king in November received Mr Biden's first phone call to the Arab world and the two have known each other since before King Abdullah ascended the throne in 1999.

Mr Biden was also quick to call and offer support to the king after the dispute that occurred in the royal family last April.

Diplomatic sources told The National it was always understood that King Abdullah would be the first Arab leader to receive an invitation to the White House, but the pandemic and policy reviews delayed it.

Merissa Khurma, director of the Middle East Programme at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, said the visit would help to rebalance the relationship after the tension of the past four years.

"This is significant as it sends a strong message of support to the Jordanian monarch personally, and also to Jordan," Ms Khurma told The National.

It is "a timely reinforcement that Jordan remains a key US ally in the region, especially after a bumpy relationship with the previous White House, whose so-called deal of the century shook the foundations of the [Palestinian-Israeli] two-state solution that Jordan upholds".

The “deal of the century” is a term coined by Mr Trump for his attempt to broker Arab-Israeli peace.

Through the deal, the former president avoided actively pursuing a two-state solution, moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and cut aid to the UN refugee agency UNRWA.

Mr Trump closed the Palestinian delegation's office in Washington, legitimised settlement expansion in the West Bank and cut assistance to the Palestinian Authority – decisions that were at odds with Jordan's historic position.

The king last visited Washington in 2018, and those differences kept him away from the White House for the last two years of the Trump presidency.

The Biden administration reversed many of those decisions, resuming aid to UNRWA and embracing a two-state solution.

The new team leaned heavily on Egypt and Jordan to help reach a ceasefire in Gaza in May.

“Given recent developments in the Palestinian-Israeli arena, the Gaza war, as well as both the Palestinian and Israeli domestic political scenes, there is certainly a lot to discuss,” Ms Khurma said.

She said Amman regarded the conflict as a national security issue because of its investment in the two-state solution and custodianship of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

Another major item on the agenda is likely to be Syria, because the administration is still charting its policy towards the country, Ms Khurma said.

Jordan is one of the few countries that has maintained a diplomatic presence in Damascus and it also hosts about 800,000 Syrian refugees.

Trilateral front with Egypt and Iraq

Curtis Ryan, a US academic who studies Jordan, saw a larger regional context for the visit.

"Jordan and its partners see the new three-way alignment or axis with Iraq and Egypt as an alternative power centre in Arab politics that helps to bring non-Gulf voices back to the forefront of Arab politics," Mr Ryan told The National.

King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi made a joint visit to Baghdad on Sunday.

“When these three were last this close, in 1989 and '90, before the Gulf War, they worked as a united front in dealing with Gulf allies over aid, oil and investment,” Mr Ryan said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi is also expected to visit the White House later in the summer.

"Jordan is very interested in gaining Iraqi and Egyptian support for its positions regarding Jerusalem, and also in co-operation, especially in the energy sector in terms of electricity, gas and even oil pipelines," Mr Ryan said.

The Biden administration has pledged to increase support for Jordan's economy, which has suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amman is one of the regional recipients of the Biden administration's global initiative to distribute 80 million doses of its vaccine supply.

The US has been the largest provider of assistance to Jordan since it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

It sent more than $1.5 billion in 2020, including $425 million in military assistance.