Lebanon Pulse

Why Did Iran's Foreign Minister Visit Jordan?

Article Summary
Did Jordan's King Abdullah II charge Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi with sending a "friendly message" to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?

On the night of May 8, the plane carrying Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi landed at the Amman airport to begin a visit that comes at what has been described as "a sensitive time" due to burgeoning developments in Syria and the region.

Opinions were mixed regarding the visit and its outcome. One of the key questions concerned whether or not Salehi succeeded in dissuading Jordan from "falling into the American trap" seeking to turn the country into a platform for military action against Syria, as well as a transfer point for militants and a weapons depot for arms that the US seeks to transfer to the Syrian opposition. The goal is to pressure the Syrian regime to render it sufficiently pliable to accept Washington's terms for the next stage, when Russia and the US will jointly seek ways to apply the "Geneva 2" deal.

According to a well-informed source speaking on condition of anonymity, the meeting between Salehi and the Jordanian monarch was held in a positive atmosphere, in contrast to the preparatory meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. The discussions between the two revealed the existence of severe divisions within the official political decision-making structure in Jordan regarding the position Amman must take toward the complex environment from which the Syrian crisis arose. The king and the military establishment are attempting to develop an approach that will guarantee events in Syria do not undermine the Jordanian regime's future survival or even diminish its power domestically. Meanwhile the prime minister, his foreign minister and a wide swath in the Jordanian parliament that might be characterized as Islamist in character fall in tow with the view of Washington, Qatar, and Turkey toward what Jordan's role in Syrian events ought to be.

The source adds that the message the Salehi bore came from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and was directed to the Jordanian king. Attempts to predict the contents of that message have generated widespread speculation. The message was said to have stressed that Iran would continue to stand alongside the Syrian regime, and that Iran would remain committed to everything this position required, chiefly Tehran's insistence that President Bashar al-Assad not be permitted to fall. The message also was said to have warned Jordan against falling into the American trap, and expressed Iran's willingness to support Jordan economically with some means as are at Tehran's disposal in order to confront American and other pressures in this regard.

The Jordanian king replied to this message by stating that he insisted on not involving his country in Syria or its crisis in a military sense, and that he supports a political solution. He also complained about the yoke of the burden that Jordan is bearing as a result of hosting Syrian displaced persons.

A message from the king of Jordan to Assad

The source confirmed that the king seemed keen during his meeting with Salehi to express his understanding of Ahmadinejad's message and its contents, especially since the fall of the Syrian regime would not serve his interests or those of the stability of Jordan. The source revealed that the Jordanian king directly charged Salehi, who was soon to depart Jordan for Syria, with a "friendly message to President Assad that also included his hopes that [Assad] … come to a more realistic vision." This voiced King Abdullah II’s disagreement with Assad's approach to handling Syria’s crisis. On the other hand, the message hinted at behind-the-scenes pressure on Jordan that could lead to the infiltration of weapons and gunmen into Syria from Jordanian territory to aid the Syrian opposition (something Assad alluded to in one of his recent television appearances.)

According to the source, the visit's true goal was not aimed at pulling Jordan into the Iranian camp, but rather to put the brakes on what was commonly perceived as Jordan being pushed into recklessly allowing combatants in the fighting within Syria to use Jordan as a base for cross-border attacks. He also emphasized that a sufficient period of time must be allowed to elapse before the true results of Salehi's visit to the king can be definitively known, since the latter is not disposed to announcing his intentions at the present time. This is due to the fact that he is confronting a situation that is fraught with difficulties; he is managing the balance of power within Jordan more than he is leading the government and holding all the reins of power. This equation applies particularly to the question of formulating his positions toward the Syrian crisis.

Jordanian tribes welcome Salehi

Faced with a campaign organized against Salehi's visit to Jordan by MPs and political forces closely tied to Islamist elements, key pro-government social and political parties in Jordan showed their support for the government and their full-throated support for the Iranian position, particularly concerning the Syrian crisis and also the Palestinian cause.

Much the same occurred when, during the same visit, Salehi hosted a celebration for the inauguration of a new facility for the Iranian Embassy in Amman. Jordanian tribal, religious and political figures attended the celebration held for the occasion. It also became clear that a number of tribes from southern Jordan participated in the celebration, with the appearance of a delegation representing all the local constituencies. A representative of that delegation even recited a poem in the local Bedouin dialect heaping praise upon the Iranian position on the Syrian crisis.

This source believes that Salehi's visit constituted an important occasion for social forces that have historically supported the king and the Hashemite dynasty (namely, the tribes of Palestinian origin). This enabled them to abandon their silence and publicly declare their hitherto repressed view on the Syrian crisis, which contravenes other views in Jordan that have been driven by the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood in particular. The Brotherhood has called for supporting the Syrian revolution and, in parallel, for launching a popular Jordanian movement based on the Syrian model and in solidarity with it.

The source, however, counseled against throwing caution to the wind in judging the implicit and explicit signals that the Jordanian king issued during Salehi's visit. The reason is simple. One cannot know at the present time whether the king will in fact embark upon practical steps to improve his country's relationship with Tehran politically and economically. Or might he leverage Iran's opening to Jordan to improve his relationships with the Gulf countries, using it to limit the pressure they have exerted on him regarding Syria and to extract greater economic support for Jordan?

Nasser Chararah is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Lebanon Pulse and multiple Arab newspapers and magazines, and the author of several books on the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict. He is also the head of the Lebanese Institute for Studies and Publications, and has worked for the Palestinian Research Center.

Found in: jordanian-syrian relations, iranian mediation of syrian crisis, iranian interests, iranian foreign policy, ali akbar salehi

Nasser Chararah is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Lebanon Pulse, as well as for multiple Arab newspapers and magazines, and the author of several books on the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict. He is also the head of the Lebanese Institute for Studies and Publications and has worked for the Palestinian Research Center.


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