Jordan's King Abdullah, on his first visit to Washington since assuming the throne after the passing of his father, King Hussein, left the impression of a quiet, energetic, and determined man.
He is excited by the possibilities for peace with the election of Ehud Barak as prime minister in Israel. He is heartened by what he sees as a good working relationship between Mr. Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But the king cautions that Jordan and other friends of the peace process must be vigilant: "There are a lot of people out there who would like to see this thing fail." He warns that rising expectations could lead to a backlash if progress is not made.
Abdullah brought Washington the message that Syria has a new willingness to sit down with Israel and work out differences. That's good news, but it will have to be borne out by deeds.
There will be no peace without Jordan, which serves as an honest broker between Israel and the Arabs. So it was good to hear the monarch say Jordan is ready to use its good offices to help the sides get together. But he also correctly noted that there's no substitute for Israelis and Palestinians, and Israelis and Syrians, sitting down and talking face to face.
The king has his hands full at home, too. He points out that Jordan can contribute to peace by getting its economic house in order. He's undertaking needed reforms, privatizing government services, and cutting red tape to improve the atmosphere for investment.
He hopes the major industrial nations will soon forgive up to $3 billion of Jordan's $7 billion foreign debt, which would significantly boost the country's economy. The US has already forgiven the $700 million owed it; the other nations would do well to follow suit. The king also intends to follow his father's policy of gradually increasing democratization.
All told, it's a program of progress and moderation. We look forward to watching Abdullah continue his father's commitment to peace, and to the well-being of all peoples in the region. He's off to a good start.