US Gulf Policy Spurs Jordanian Suspicions

Concern mounts that US will write off Jordan after war

KING Hussein's bitter criticism of the United States Gulf policy last week reflects Jordanian apprehension over a postwar US-imposed regional order that might exclude Jordan and a settlement for the Palestinian problem, according to well-informed analysts here. ``It was a message that the US cannot impose a new world order, involving a new setup in the region, that will serve American interests at the expense of Arab interests and aspirations,'' says a former Jordanian official, who asks not to be named.

King Hussein's speech accused the US and the coalition forces of deliberately and systematically destroying Iraq. It also expressed increasing Jordanian suspicions, both official and popular, that Washington is ready to write off Jordan once the Gulf war is over.

Analysts and well-placed Jordanian sources say they believe there are people in Washington who entertain the idea of wiping Jordan off the political map. Alternatives favored by some circles in Washington, they say, might be to use the nation as a homeland for the Palestinians or to divide it among Israel, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

In his Feb. 6 speech, the king accused the coalition forces of planning to divide the ``spoils'' of the war once the current massive confrontation is over.

The charges drew an angry reaction from the US administration, which accused Jordan of abandoning its neutrality and moving over to the Iraqi camp.

But Middle East experts in Washington disagree with the Jordanian charge. Although Jordan might suffer in the short term, they say, the country remains crucial to regional stability, from the US viewpoint.

``There is a war mentality of `who is not with us is against us,''' says Helena Cobban of the Brookings Institute in Washington. ``But there are many many people who appreciate Jordan as a buffer and, when they think calmly about the region, they realize that it will be much more chaotic without Jordan.''

IN Jordan, however, there is a growing feeling that US decisionmakers do not take the politics of the region, let alone national aspirations, into consideration.

``They only see American interests when they talk about a new world order,'' says a Jordanian analyst close to the government. ``What they ignore is that there is a discrepancy between preserving the American way of life and the welfare of people in the region.''

Furthermore, Jordanians believe there have always been decisionmakers in Washington who favor the idea of substituting a Palestinian state for Jordan, even when King Hussein was on good terms with the US.

``In 1970 [when the Jordanian Army clashed with the Palestine Liberation Organization], we knew that in the first week of the [civil] war, there were some in Washington who were pressing for writing Jordan off,'' says a former Jordanian official, who held an important post at that time.

Mistrust of US intentions toward Jordan has been intensified by economic pressures from the US and Saudi Arabia - the kingdom's two main financial backers - following King Hussein's refusal to join the US-led anti-Iraqi coalition.

For its part, the US led a naval blockade on Jordan's only port of Aqaba to prevent imports from getting to Iraq. But Jordanian shipping and official sources say the blockade strangled the port - even before the war began Jan. 16 - obstructing the country's trade with the world.

Jordanians were also stunned by what they see as an unexpected and uncharacteristic Saudi vindictiveness in response to Jordan's position. Riyadh has not only expelled Jordanian diplomats, but has cut off its oil supplies to Jordan, prohibited the reshipment of Jordan-bound goods that could not make their way to Aqaba, and effectively prevented any trade with Jordan.

The Saudi measures sparked angry demonstrations near the Syria borders last week, when the residents of Ramtha attacked Syrian and Turkish trucks loaded with goods and food supplies for Saudi Arabia. Some of the trucks carried food and alcohol to the coalition forces stationed in Saudi Arabia, according to Jordanian parliamentarians.

The government had to impose a partial curfew and to briefly detain more than 80 protesters to ensure the free passage of the trucks to Saudi Arabia.

Two events have reinforced views here that Jordan is being penalized for its refusal to join the coalition against Iraq: the bombing of Jordanian trucks carrying oil supplies from Iraq (despite United Nations permission for Jordan to get Iraqi oil) and calls in Washington for a review of the annual $50 million to $55 million in foreign aid.

Information Minister Ibrahim Izz al-Din denies that Jordan has become an all-out supporter of Iraq, but says US pressure will not prompt Jordan to change its position toward the Gulf crisis.

``There is indeed a definite change in language and tone of our approach,'' he says. ``That is because of the new fact: the destruction of an Arab country, Iraq.''

``But there is no shift whatsoever in our policy and principled approach to the Gulf crisis,'' Mr. Izz al-Din says. Although Jordan has strongly opposed and condemned the coalition forces bombardment of Iraq, it supports the full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions calling for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

``We still have the Kuwaiti Embassy in Amman don't we?'' he asks.

Some Jordanians think Washington is deliberately misinterpreting Jordan's position to pave the way for the kingdom's demise.

``If they really entertain such ideas, they will find Jordan a tougher nut to crack that they think,'' a Jordanian official says.

Analysts and officials say that King Hussein is mainly depending on the support of his people and the solid national unity, which has emerged as a result of the democratization process that was launched 16 months ago.

``The democratization process is Jordan's safety valve,'' says a Jordanian official, reflecting widespread suspicion that the US might encourage internal disruption of national unity as a way to undermine the country's sovereignty after or even during the war.

But US experts on the Middle East deny that the US or coalition forces will seek to undermine King Hussein's regime or will react with vengeance toward Jordan.

``I do not think that the US and its allies will be vindictive against Jordan,'' says William Quandt from the Brookings Institute. Mr. Quandt says he sees scope for American-Jordanian reconciliation, once the war is over.

``There are no alternative in Jordan for his [King Hussein's] leadership,'' he says.

But from the Jordanian viewpoint, according to analysts and sources close to the government, the most frustrating element is that Jordan and the Arabs are being asked to accept a postwar regional order about which they have not been consulted.

``What we are trying to say is that the US might win the war, but it will not win peace,'' the former Jordanian official says.

``We shall not accept the US imposing its new world order upon us.''

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