Exclusive: Jordan's foreign minister touts 'tremendous' US shift on Palestine

Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi also tells 'The National' that he expects Washington to allow Jordanian electricity transfers to Lebanon via Syria

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi addresses the press in Amman, Jordan, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
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Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi has welcomed Washington's change in stance on Palestine, after US President Joe Biden reversed some of his predecessor Donald Trump's staunchly pro-Israel policies.

“We do see a tremendous positive change in the US position vis-a-vis [the Palestinian] issue,” Mr Safadi, who is also deputy prime minister, told The National in an interview from the UN General Assembly.

He pointed to Mr Biden's comments at the UNGA a day earlier, when the president said he supported a two-state solution, which was a long-held US position until Mr Trump hedged on that commitment in the last four years.

The Biden administration has walked back several other Trump-era policies including opposing the expansion of Israeli settlements, recognising all UN-registered Palestinians, resuming aid to UNRWA, restarting talks with the Palestinian Authority and planning to reopen a consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Critical for Jordan was the US “urging respect for the historical status-quo in Jerusalem and the holy sites,” Mr Safadi said. Jordan has had custodianship over some of the Muslim sites since 1948.

The close working relationship between Mr Safadi and his US counterpart Antony Blinken helped to mitigate the Sheikh Jarrah crisis and the intense violence between Israel and Gaza in May.

While an earnest resumption of talks for a two-state solution is unlikely in the current political climate, short-term goals such as preventing Israeli provocations in Jerusalem and another war with Hamas appear to be working.

“We've all heard President Biden and Secretary [Antony] Blinken and others in the administration reiterating commitment to a two-state solution, opposition to settlements, urging respect for the historical status quo in Jerusalem and the holy sites, we've worked very closely with them during the [Gaza] crisis … to calm things down, and we work very effectively with them in order to avoid provocative measures in Jerusalem,” Mr Safadi said.

Mr Safadi called King Abdullah’s July visit to the White House “historic”, as he was the first Arab leader to be received by Mr Biden as president.

Another prospective diplomatic breakthrough for Jordan has been organising energy shipments to Lebanon to alleviate its power crisis.

The proposal entails transporting Egyptian fuel and Jordanian electricity to Lebanon through Syria. That route requires a US waiver to avoid triggering sanctions aimed at transactions made with the regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

Mr Safadi said he is confident a waiver will be granted, with talks now centred on the technicalities of connecting the grids to reach Beirut.

“The political decision is taken,” Mr Safadi said, explaining that the US is supporting the plan.

When King Abdullah was in the US, “Lebanon was on the top of the issues that he raised, out of concern that we should not have yet another failed Arab country,” the Jordanian diplomat said.

Jordan is a relative newcomer to Lebanese politics but has shown increased engagement during the current crisis.

At the UN on Wednesday, King Abdullah called for “a well-planned, well-executed international response, engaging all of us” to help Beirut.

The inroads to Lebanon come in part because of Jordan’s neutral relations with the Assad regime in Syria.

Amman never closed its embassy in Damascus and has in recent years reopened its border crossings. Last week, it hosted Syrian Defence Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub.

“For years, we've been saying that we have to get an end to this catastrophe in Syria. It can only be done through a political solution that would preserve the unity and integrity of Syria,” Mr Safadi said.

King Abdullah has been promoting a settlement for the conflict in recent visits to Washington and Moscow.

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“In the last few years, there was no strategy towards ending the conflict in Syria - it was ad hoc management of certain aspects and components of aspects of that crisis,” Mr Safadi argued.

“What we're trying to do with Jordan is to create a process that would allow for us to move towards the path of finding a political solution, with a focus on what should have always been the focus: Syria and the Syrian people.”

Jordan’s 367-kilometre border with Syria and its hosting of 1.3 million Syrian refugees heightens the importance of managing that relationship, said Mr Safadi.

While in New York, Mr Safadi has been meeting counterparts from across Europe and the Middle East.

Amman is eager to solidify its relations with Egypt and Iraq to build co-operation, mainly in the energy sector.

The Baghdad conference last month, attended by the leaders of the three countries as well as French President Emmanuel Macron and representatives from Gulf countries and Turkey, was seen as an indication of further geopolitical co-operation.

“The idea is to build on that natural complementarity that exists with the two countries and to have that as a bloc. And what would be broader, meaningful, effective, practical, pragmatic co-operation, that is a win-win for all,” Mr Safadi said.

“We need to look at politics but we also need to look at other vital issues, such the economy, health, trade and education.”

Updated: September 23, 2021, 6:34 AM