CAIRO — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met Jordan’s King Abdullah in Washington on April 4 during Sisi’s visit to discuss the future of US-Egyptian relations with President Donald Trump and senior US officials.
The meeting between the two Arab leaders came a day after Sisi met Trump at the White House to discuss regional concerns and US-Egyptian cooperation in various areas.
Sisi’s meeting with Abdullah raised multiple questions, especially as it came just a week after the two leaders met at the 28th Arab League Summit that Abdullah hosted in the Dead Sea area near the Jordanian capital on March 29 — along with the fact that Sisi had met Trump in the meantime.
Hani Khallaf, former Egyptian deputy foreign minister, told Al-Monitor that the new US administration is making a fundamental break with the country’s foreign policies under former President Barack Obama.
He said, “It appears that the new policy will focus on Egypt and Jordan, seeing them as partners in starting to build a new American policy in the Middle East and depending on them as key players in achieving security and stability in the Arab world and the Middle East as a whole."
Khallaf added, “The clearest evidence that the United States depends on Egypt and Jordan is the fact that King Abdullah was the first Arab leader to visit Washington after Trump’s inauguration as president, and that Sisi was invited to visit the United States for the first time in years — the last visit of an Egyptian president to the United States was in 2004.”
Abdullah made an official visit to Washington on Jan. 30, becoming the first Arab leader to visit the US capital after Trump’s election last November.
“Egypt and Jordan are central states in the region. Both President Sisi and King Abdullah are experienced in preserving stability and balance in the Middle East, which is why the new US administration is interested in cooperating with them and relying on them, to the benefit of US interests,” Khallaf said. “It is also clear that both Egypt and Jordan welcome the new US approach in the region and cooperation with the United States."
He noted, “The three states share similar visions and goals on the new map of the Middle East and the challenges facing them. That became clear with Jordan’s response to the US bombing of a Syrian air base. Jordan strongly welcomed the strike and saw it as necessary and appropriate.”
On the night of April 6-7, the United States fired a barrage of 59 missiles at a Syrian air base in response to a chemical attack by the regime on April 4 in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, in Idlib province, which killed and wounded hundreds of Syrians.
On April 7, Jordan’s Minister of State for Media Affairs Mohammad al-Momani responded, saying, “The US strike was a necessary and appropriate response to the ongoing targeting of civilians with weapons of mass destruction and crimes against humanity.”
Khallaf said Trump was “a safety belt to President Sisi. They have similar views on political Islamist groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood and the need to counter it with maximum force.”
He noted, “Sisi has welcomed that and sees Trump as his biggest supporter in facing down the Brotherhood, especially as Trump’s predecessor, Obama, had a different view of the group and was hostile toward the Egyptian regime following the events of June 30, 2013, which toppled the Brotherhood rule in Egypt. I expect a three-way alliance will be established between the United States, Egypt and Jordan in the coming days.”
Rukha Hassan, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, told Al-Monitor, “The meeting between President Trump and the Jordanian king for the second time since he [Trump] took office is no surprise. The new US administration is fully aware of the importance of that step, and it is very clear that the meeting between Sisi and the Jordanian king was aimed at coordinating visions and agreeing on clear policies to be followed in the next phase.”
On April 5, Abdullah met Trump for the second time, for talks focusing on enhancing cooperation and the strategic partnership between Jordan and the United States.
“There is a major American effort to take advantage of the central roles of Egypt and Jordan in the region and rely on them to achieve stability and security in the Middle East in light of the growing Iranian threat and Tehran’s growing influence,” Hassan said. “Anyone can see that Trump is working to limit Iranian influence by every possible means.”
He added, “America has interests in the Middle East and is suffering crises and challenges that it wants to overcome, so I expect that the fundamental goals of this cooperation or trilateral alliance will be fighting terrorism and finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a very clear tendency of the new US administration.”
Hassan noted, “President Trump has a very clear vision on fighting terrorism. He knows very well that it has negative aspects and that he will not eliminate it on his own, but he needs to seek help from key states in the Middle East, which is why America is making efforts to set up an alliance there.”
It seems clear that the new US administration is seeking to change its foreign policy, specifically regarding the Middle East and the Arab world. The United States is relying on Egypt and Jordan, which are central states in the region and may help promote the US presence here.