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Qatar, Jordan to appoint new ambassadors following diplomatic row

Jordan and Qatar are set to appoint their respective ambassadors to Amman and Doha after more than two years of diplomatic row.

Jordan and Qatar are expected to exchange ambassadors in the coming days, two years after Amman recalled its ambassador to Doha, as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with the Gulf state in June 2017. 

On June 24, the local army radio quoted government sources as saying that Amman has officially asked the Qatari government to consider the current secretary-general of the Foreign Ministry, Zaid al-Lawzi, as its next ambassador to Doha. Qatari media reported June 27 that Doha has proposed Sheikh Saudi bin Nasser bin Jasem as its ambassador to Amman.

The restoration of full diplomatic ties follows a number of goodwill gestures between the two countries that included a high-level visit April 17 by Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defense Affairs Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah to Amman, where he met with King Abdullah.

Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman al-Safadi told a local Jordanian TV station June 14 that his country’s relations with Qatar are "distinguished and fraternal." He added that there is consultation between the two countries on all issues of mutual concern.

The decision by Amman to restore normal diplomatic ties with Qatar was seen by analysts as reasserting Jordan’s independent foreign policy course and desire to keep away from inter-Arab squabbles. They also considered the timing of the move as important, underlining a period of lukewarm diplomatic relations between Amman and Riyadh over differences in visions regarding the US proposed regional peace plan.

Jordan rejects any proposal that deviates from the two-state solution and is frustrated that billions of dollars in Saudi investments have been delayed since a joint fund was enacted in 2017.

The tussle between Doha and its Gulf neighbors in addition to Egypt took Jordan, which was heading the Arab summit for that year, by surprise. Amman found itself in the unenviable position of having to choose sides, and it decided to reduce the level of diplomatic representation with Qatar without severing ties. 

Observers believe that Doha had appreciated Jordan’s delicate position and had chosen not to escalate the situation.

When Jordan called on the Gulf states to help support its ailing budget following mass protests that led to the sacking of the government last June, Saudi Arabia hosted a four-nation meeting in Mecca on June 11, 2018, that was attended by Kuwait and the UAE in addition to Jordan.

The three Gulf states pledged an aid package worth $2.5 billion in the form of a cash deposit with the Central Bank of Jordan, World Bank loan guarantees for the kingdom, annual support for the state budget for five years and financing for development projects. Aside from a $1 billion deposit from the three Gulf states to support the Central Bank of Jordan, little else materialized from the Mecca meeting.

Meanwhile, Qatar, which was not invited to the meeting, stepped in two days later to offer a $500 million aid package to Jordan. The package included investments, project finance and job opportunities for Jordanians in the Gulf state. And in August 2018, the two countries launched a job website aimed at providing 10,000 job opportunities for Jordanians in Qatar. 

Around 180,000 Jordanians visited the online platform in the first 30 minutes after it was launched. In April, 2,000 work permits had been issued for Jordanians to work in Qatar while 3,000 others were being processed. No less than 40,000 Jordanians are estimated to be working in Qatar.

In March, Qatari media reported that the trade exchange between Qatar and Jordan witnessed an 18% increase to reach 1.3 billion Qatari riyals ($357 million) in 2018 over the 1.1 billion riyals ($302 million) recorded in the previous year.

The Jordan Times reported March 6 that Qatar had “expressed interest in diversifying its investments in the kingdom and increasing them over the next three years from their current volume of $2 billion to $4 billion, especially in the tourism and financial market sectors.”

While economic benefits are the main driver behind the recent improvement in Jordan-Qatar ties, it is difficult not to politicize that move. Writing in The Jordan Times on April 21, political analyst and chairman of the Amman-based NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions Fares Braizat said, “Jordan has very little interest, if any, in being part of any inter-Arab cold war, or wars. The current irrational and unjustifiable cold wars and their active theatres have caused significant economic and financial troubles for Jordan and will threaten the stability of the region for a long time to come.” 

Pointing to the recent rapprochement between Jordan and Qatar, Braizat continued, “The Qataris are very interested in working with and in Jordan. The two countries need one another, and they should cooperate more and reinstate ambassadors to contribute to the reduction of tension in the region and be constructive rather than destructive.”

Hasan Barari, professor of political science at the University of Jordan, told Al-Monitor that it has become difficult for Jordan to continue to lower its diplomatic ties with Qatar. He said that Jordan’s ability to push back against the “deal of the century” hinges on two factors. First, a strong domestic front is crucial for any pushback against the proposed deal and second, Jordan’s ability to diversify its foreign ties is a must. “It boils down to one point: Jordan needs to free itself from the restrictions imposed by traditional allies,” he said.

A number of political observers believe that the restoration of full diplomatic ties with Qatar may be a prelude to further political moves that will be taken in the framework of the regional realignment policy. They point to the need for Jordan to further open up with Turkey and even Iran at some later stage. This is a delicate balancing act for Jordan’s diplomacy, one that the kingdom has been performing for decades.

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