JORDAN'S King Hussein paid a big price for his support of Iraq during the Gulf war and the crisis that preceded it. His standing in the West nose-dived, and Jordan's long cultivated image as an island of moderation in a sea of radical or traditionalist Arab regimes was tarnished. The king also lost the crucial financial backing of his Saudi neighbors and other wealthy Gulf states. It is beginning to dawn on some in the region, and in Washington, however, that those who hope for a lasting Middle East peace could pay a big price if the isolation of Jordan is carried too far. Ironically, King Hussein's decision to align himself with the overwhelmingly pro-Iraq sympathies of his people has given him a popular backing he's rarely enjoyed.
Jordan's Palestinians, in particular, have become ardent backers of the king. This means Hussein could be in an excellent position to support Palestinian participation in future peace talks, or even sponsor a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
Some variation on that formula might be acceptable to the Israeli government. While many Israelis were infuriated by Hussein's sympathies for Iraq, they still appreciate the king's moderating influence on his largely Palestinian population.
Fellow Arabs, however, may not be willing to see Jordan take an important role in regional peace efforts. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia has shown no inclination to forgive Hussein's leaning toward Iraq. And Syria's Hafez al-Assad isn't likely to welcome Jordan's championing of the Palestinian cause - a role he sees himself filling.
Washington has so far remained cool toward Jordan, and Congress has shown its disgust with the king's stance during the war by attempting to slice US aid by $55 million. President Bush was able to temper that move, however, by reserving the right to restore aid if Jordan takes a constructive part in the peace process.
Mr. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker III recognize that Jordan may again be a valuable ally.