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Hussein Visit Will Center on Mideast Peace, More US Aid

By E.A. WayneStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 17, 1989



WASHINGTON

JORDAN'S King Hussein arrives in Washington today for the third major visit by a Middle East leader this month. The Arab-Israeli peace process will be at the center of the King's discussions with President Bush and others on Wednesday and Thursday. United States economic and security aid will be key topics.

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US officials say Jordan must participate in any peace process, even if the King no longer aspires to speak for the Palestinian residents of the occupied territories. Hussein's participation, they contend, will be vital for building confidence in months ahead.

It will also be impossible to build the kind of security situation Israel will need for an overall peace settlement, unless Jordan is involved and committed, says a senior US official working on the peace process.

Last year, Hussein ceded political leadership of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and subsequently cut Jordan's legal and political ties with the West Bank. Hussein says he will still participate in the peace process but continues to champion an international conference.

The Bush administration says the time is not ripe for such a conference. US officials will try to persuade the Jordanian leader of the wisdom of their step-by-step approach to peace. They will seek the King's acquiescence to, if not support for, the idea of elections in the occupied territories to designate an initial set of Palestinian negotiators. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir put this idea forward 10 days ago.

US officials plan to explore the conditions under which the Palestinians and others might support elections. So far, no Arab or Palestinian leader has publicly supported them.

``The King is wary of this idea because he is not a party to it, while he would have a clear role in an international conference,'' says a US specialist on Jordan who requested anonymity. ``In the short-term, US strategy is not too dependent on Hussein and that adds to his jitters. The administration will have to assure him that it thinks he is still important.''

Jordan's importance to the peace process is underlined in a new study on Israel's minimum security requirements for peace by Zeev Schiff, military editor for the Israeli daily Ha'aretz. The report was sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Mr. Schiff contends that if Jordan is not present in the peace process ``Israel won't be able to afford the total withdrawal of the Army from Judea and Samaria'' because it would be vulnerable to attack from the east. ``Jordan is an organic part of the strategic configuration of the region,'' he says. This leads Schiff to conclude that a final solution will have to involve some sort of confederative relation between Israel, Jordan, and a Palestinian entity.

Jordan's assistance needs will also be on the table this week. It has been forced to undertake a major economic retrenchment by mounting international debts and has reportedly reached a tentative agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which would free up several hundred million dollars from the IMF and the World Bank to meet the financial crunch. In exchange, however, Jordan will reportedly make additional adjustments, including halving its budget deficit.

THE kingdom's debt repayment totals about $1 billion a year. Already it has devalued its currency by about 40 percent and implemented austerity measures. Regional economic specialists in Washington say Jordan has been living beyond its means for the past several years as aid and worker remittances from the Arab Gulf states have shrunk.

US aid to Jordan also dropped dramatically because of budget cuts and congressional ``earmarking'' of remaining assistance. Economic aid fell from about $110 million in fiscal year 1987 to $15 million this fiscal year. While Jordan is also receiving $10 million in military assistance this year, it also must pay back $60 million in military debt.

In the new budget, the administration is seeking $35 million in economic aid and $48 million in military assistance. Congress appears favorably disposed. ``People up here feel positively we've got to do better this year for Jordan,'' a congressional aide says.