Warmer ties with Syria give Jordan leverage. But they also highlight constraints on Hussein's peace efforts

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Jordan's King Hussein, in improving relations with Soviet-allied Syria, is seeking greater elbow room for his Mideast peace efforts. The immediate effect has been to highlight constraints -- from both Syria and its rival, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat -- on any Jordanian move to make diplomatic concessions to Israel.

But the Jordanian-Syrian shift serves several other purposes, analysts say.

King Hussein, who signaled the new tone toward Syria in a statement of reconciliation earlier this week, is seen as securing the following advantages from the move:

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He eases the pressure of enmity from Syria, a major regional power on Jordan's northern border.

He pleases Saudi Arabia, which has backed the efforts at rapprochement and provides needed economic aid to both Jordan and Syria.

He sends a signal of displeasure to Washington, where the United States Congress has slapped a delay on a long-sought sale of arms to Jordan.

He nudges his small kingdom closer to the Arab political mainstream, in line with his traditional bid for at least tolerably good relations with key Arab states.

The sudden improvement in atmosphere between Jordan and Syria does not appear to herald instant or total rapprochement.

The King remains pro-Western in outlook. His preference for the mainstream rules out anything like an all-out alliance with the Syrians for the time being.

He also remains committed to his close ties with Iraq and to a Feb. 11 agreement on a joint diplomatic strategy with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat. Syria is a vehement rival of both.

Yet, this week, Hussein went out of his way to signal the seriousness of his current move to ease tension with the Syrians.

In a ``letter'' to his own prime minister -- broadcast in Jordan and rebroadcast with satisfaction in Syria -- Hussein reversed his longtime denial that Jordan was harboring foes of the Syrian regime.

He said he had fallen victim to an ``absence of accurate information'' when he had made the denial in talks with Syrian President Hafez Assad in 1980.

Hussein added: ``There is no place among us for the treacherous, the wicked, the conspirator. . . . We will never allow anybody to create ordeals or sedition, to sow doubts between Jordan and any of its brothers.

``A new phase of work has begun between us and brotherly Syria.''

By his sudden step toward Syria, the King has hiked pressure on Mr. Arafat to be more forthcoming on the issue of peace talks with Israel, in keeping with their February accord on pursuing a joint negotiating strategy for Mideast peace.

Hussein has been angered by the murky role of the PLO in recent Mideast violence.

A chill also settled on Jordan's attitude toward Arafat after the cancellation of talks in London last month between Britain and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian team. Britain called off the talks after a Palestinian member of the team refused to sign a previously agreed statement renouncing violence and recognizing Israel's right to exist.

A joint communiqu'e issued Wednesday, capping talks in Damascus this week between the prime ministers of Jordan and Syria, pointedly omitted explicit reference to a PLO role in eventual peace talks.

The statement pledged Syria and Jordan to the King's stated bid for an international conference on Mideast peace that would include the United States and the Soviet Union.

But equally strong was a commitment to avoid ``partial or unilateral solutions or [separate] direct negotiations with Israel.''

This was a reminder of Syria's opposition to recently intensified efforts involving the Jordanian-PLO partnership, the US, and Israel to reach a compromise formula for convening a peace conference.

The Syrians regard these efforts as the threat of a separate peace that would leave them out in the cold.

While Israeli officials have stressed privately they would like to see the Syrians -- and Soviets -- involved in talks, the main focus of diplomatic efforts so far has been the issue of the West Bank of the Jordan River.

Israel captured the area from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war.

Statements from Israel suggest the issue of the Golan Heights -- captured from Syria at the same time -- is less open to compromise on the Israeli side.

Arafat, meanwhile, seems intent on evading heightened pressure from Jordan to go along on a compromise Arab-Israeli negotiating formula.

In a visit to Jordan late last month, Arafat stopped short of explicitly endorsing negotiated peace with Israel despite privately expressed hopes by Jordanians before the visit he would do so.

When Arafat did decide last week to make a more limited pledge to ``punish'' Palestinians engaging in violence outside Israeli-occupied areas, he made the statement not in Amman but in Cairo.

This seemed a deliberate signal that if Hussein pushes Arafat for major concessions, Arafat could play spoiler.

He would try to do this by deemphasizing his tie with Jordan -- which has based its negotiating hopes on a partnership with Palestinians -- in favor of other Arab states.

Egypt and Jordan have been locked in quiet tension for months, according to sources in Cairo and Amman, over which should have the primary role in current Arab diplomacy.

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