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Key Peace Player Jordan Feels Slighted by US

Despite high US aid per capita, kingdom eyes American billions for Israel and Egypt.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 20, 1997



AMMAN, JORDAN

Expectations were high in Jordan after King Hussein signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1994.

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Jordan would play a pivotal peacemaking role, alongside America and Israel, in the Middle East. And the cash reward - largely from US coffers and joint Israeli business and tourism - would bring an economic boom.

Then the regional momentum shifted. In May 1996, Israel elected right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stiffened the terms for peace; and US help - though significant - fell far short of Jordanian expectations.

Jordan has often proved that it can play a crucial role in preserving peace. But widespread disillusionment at home is eating away at the king's popularity, diplomats and analysts say.

US and other aid may be critical until peace begins to pay its own dividends, though some argue that the diplomatic muscle has already allowed the king to take a tougher stand on problems at home.

"We are caught in the middle," said Interior Minister Nathir Rashid, in an interview.

"The peace is not working, and the war is not over. We are not rewarded by Israel or the US or the European Union, but we always pay the price for any mistake."

Jordan can be forgiven for expecting a gold mine after making peace with Israel. Every year since 1979, when Egypt and Israel agreed to the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty at Camp David, Egypt has received from the US $2.1 billion in cash and military hardware. Israel gets $3.1 billion.

A windfall was expected here, too. "The king was strong and thought he could build a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea," says one analyst. "There were plans to make the desert bloom, turn the Jordan Valley into a park, and make it one of the wonders of the world. But nothing happened."

Many believe that the reward for burying 45 years of violent enmity with the Jewish state has been negligible. Combined with a struggling economy, strict new press laws, and an unbalanced election system that has prompted Islamist parties to boycott a Nov. 4 parliamentary vote, the impression has grown that the king's high-profile role abroad isn't translating into democratic gains at home.

On paper, the figures of increasing US aid look impressive: Jordan is receiving nearly 20 times what it did last year. It is the sixth-largest recipient of non-food US Agency for International Development money in the world, and $637 million in official debts has been forgiven.

Jordan is tied with Thailand for the largest US-financed military training program in the world, for 200 military personnel. Last year, it received used US military hardware valued at $100 million - including 18 helicopters, 50 tanks, 250 trucks, and a C-130 transport plane - and the US is providing $175 million financing for the delivery of 16 F-16 jet fighters.

There have also been two joint military exercises so far, further highlighting how far Jordan has shifted toward the Western camp after King Hussein pledged sympathy for Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein during the 1990-91 Gulf War.

President Clinton has declared Jordan a special non-NATO ally, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said during a visit last month that she was "trying to get as much aid for Jordan as possible," but made clear that "it is no secret that we have a very tight budget."