By Julian Pecquet September 12, 2018
Jordan is hitting the jackpot in Donald Trump’s Washington despite a minimalistic lobbying operation anchored by King Abdullah II’s personal relationships.
The Hashemite kingdom spent a grand total of $267,000 on lobbying and public relations last year, a pittance compared with many other Middle East countries. The investment paid off 5,000-fold, with the State Department signing a five-year, $1.275 billion-a-year memorandum of understanding, the first of its kind under the foreign-aid-adverse Trump.
“For decades the United States and Jordan have sustained a truly indispensable strategic partnership that’s been critical to the security of both of our nations, as well as contributing to the security of the region,” then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the Feb. 14 signing ceremony in Amman. “This MOU is a signal to the rest of the world that the US-Jordan partnership has never been stronger.”
The aid increase is all the more remarkable in light of Jordan’s vocal opposition to Trump’s pro-Israel policy and the subsequent collapse of peace talks with the Palestinians. As one of 128 countries that voted at the United Nations to reject the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Jordan was among the countries with the most to lose if the US administration had followed through on its threats.
“They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us,” Trump said at the White House following the vote. “Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”
Jordan is doing even better in Congress, where both the House and Senate foreign aid spending panels are seeking $1.525 billion for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The House bill goes one step further, encouraging the Trump administration to support the creation of an Enterprise Fund for Jordan in line with legislation from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., that passed the lower chamber in February.
“The Committee notes the importance of the relationship with the Kingdom of Jordan and the strong leadership that Jordan continues to play in advancing peace and stability in the region,” House appropriators wrote in the report accompanying their fiscal year 2019 spending bill. “The United States should continue to support critical economic aid and to provide the assistance needed to ensure Jordan’s success.”
Amman scored another big win in April when the Supreme Court ended a major lawsuit brought against Jordan’s Arab Bank by 6,000 survivors of terror attacks and relatives of victims. The court ruled 5-4 that non-US citizens could not sue the bank, one of the largest financial institutions in the Middle East, for allegations that it helped fund terrorism in Israel and the Palestine. Arab Bank is reported to have reached a $1 billion settlement with US citizens in a separate case it lost in 2014.
Legal troubles continue to plague the bilateral relationship, prompting Jordan to hire international law firm White and Case in January to advise the kingdom on “potential litigation issues in the United States.” The firm joins the Hogan Lovells lobby shop and the Vivien Ravdin PR firm in Jordan’s stable of influence firms, along with the West Wing Writers group working for the office of Queen Rania.
While the bilateral relationship remains strong, the Trump administration’s regional policies have caused headaches for Jordan.
Facing an overwhelming influx of Syrian refugees, Jordan negotiated a deal with the United States and Russia last summer to create a de-escalation zone in southwest Syria. The Trump administration, however, has all but abandoned its pledge to enforce the agreement as Bashar al-Assad’s forces mop up the last rebel strongholds in the area.
And even as Tillerson and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi touted the memorandum of understanding in February, local reporters peppered them with questions about the frozen Israeli-Palestinian peace process. As the guarantor of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and home to millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, Jordan is deeply vested in the struggle for Palestinian statehood.
“We’ve worked with many American administrations on trying to resolve this conflict,” Safadi said when asked about Amman’s split with Washington regarding Jerusalem. “We’ll continue to work with this current administration to do so because we believe in the key role of the United States in delivering that peace. We cannot give up.”
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