Does the World Want Jordan to Vanish?

POLITICAL turbulence is hardly unknown in the Middle East, but these past three months have brought storms of catastrophic consequence, particularly to Jordan - a long-standing friend and ally of Western democracies. If Kuwait was the initial focus of Saddam Hussein's actions, Jordan has become the chief victim of the aftermath of that invasion and the world community's extraordinary response to it. And nobody seems to care.

Plainly put, our small country of 3.5 million people is on the brink of extinction.

The tragic irony is that precisely because we are complying with United Nations sanctions and embargoes against Iraq, our economy is suffering. Our primary exports of fruits and vegetables have dwindled to a trickle; once-lucrative tourism has practically ended; and development aid from the West, and from our rich Arab brethren, seems to have ceased because of an unfounded perception that Jordan is secretly rooting for Iraq.

Jordan is not an apologist for Iraq. We have made it clear to the Baghdad leadership that we are opposed to the acquisition of territory by force. We have made it clear that we support international efforts to restore the ousted emir of Kuwait. So what explains the international perception that we are actually a ``fifth column'' acting on Saddam Hussein's behalf?

I suspect the answer lies in the fact that my elder brother, His Majesty King Hussein, has not added his voice to those clamoring for war against Iraq. Jordan believes that those calling for war do not understand the vast devastation and suffering that further hostilities would bring to our region.

War would unleash hatreds that would extend well beyond the Arab-Israeli syndrome and irreparably hurt Western and American interests in the Islamic world.

Jordan believes that Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait should be unconditional. However, we also believe that for the sake of building a more just order in the region, the underlying causes that led to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait have to be tackled. The possibility of negotiations and of referring boundary disputes to the World Court should not be ruled out.

Jordan also believes that it is morally reprehensible to take hostages. Jordan is party to the UN Convention against the taking of hostages and to other treaties against international terrorism.

The point to be emphasized is that Jordan is not critical of the UN nor of its resolutions. On the contrary, we regard them as mandatory. What we disagree with are certain policies followed by some of our allies aimed ostensibly at achieving these objectives.

In other words, we have no disagreement on the need to restore legitimacy and the rule of international law. But we dissent on the means. Should we be punished for being honest? Though dishonesty would have produced quick pecuniary rewards, we chose to stick to our principles and be truthful with the leaders and people of the West.

Do these leaders and their publics realize the extent of Jordan's deteriorating condition?

By the end of this year, Jordan will lose more than $1 billion in revenue because our traditional markets in Iraq and Kuwait have been closed.

Saudi Arabia, our neighbor and other major market, could have come to our rescue by compensating Jordan for the loss of Iraqi oil and trade with both Iraq and Kuwait. But the Saudis, perhaps out of genuine, if gross, misguidance, see Jordan as an apologist for Iraq. They have shunned us.

Moreover, the Gulf crisis has resulted in the return to Jordan of hundreds of thousands of skilled Jordanians and Palestinians who worked in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. This has meant a loss of almost $350 million in repatriated revenue to Jordan, and this also means that our government will now have to spend more than $300 million in providing unanticipated social services.

How does Jordan still survive? Only with great difficulty.

More than $185 million in economic assistance that Jordan received annually from Iraq and Kuwait has disappeared. Yes, we still import oil from Iraq for domestic consumption. Fortunately, we are not required to pay for this oil since Baghdad permits Jordan to credit these imports against Iraq's $310 million debt to Jordan at a rate of $16 a barrel.

With our declining revenues and with evaporating foreign aid, the economic future for this nation - once given the prospect of becoming the ``Singapore of the Middle East'' - is bleak. Jordan's cash reserves are now estimated at barely $175 million. (Yet, we will require about $500 million by the end of this year to merely service our foreign debt of $8.4 billion.)

Does the world really want Jordan to disappear?

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