King Hussein of Jordan, long identified as a cautious friend of the West, appears to have aligned his country firmly behind Iraq with a speech accusing foreigners of trying to colonize the Arab world.
The king told Parliament on Sunday that "the industrialized nations are determined to reshape the map of our region, which contains two-thirds of the world's oil, in a manner that would only serve their own interests." His remarks were not made public until Monday.
Hussein made no specific mention of the United States, but clearly his remarks were prompted by the Bush Administration's decision to send troops to Saudi Arabia to discourage Iraq from invading.
"Foreign ambitions in this region serve the purposes of the enemies of the Arab nation and are designed to help achieve the enemy's objectives through depriving the Arabs of their wealth now and in the future," he warned. "The present explosive situation is threatening the whole region and resulted from the massing of foreign military forces on Arab soil."
The position taken by the king is sure to put Jordan in conflict with the United States, which is applying economic sanctions to Iraq. On Monday, Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.) was in Jordan trying to convince Hussein of the need for sanctions.
Solarz told reporters: "We have to make it clear that the whole relationship with the United States hinges on making the sanctions work. Given the interests we have in the gulf, we would not be prepared to maintain relations as they are if Jordan seemed to be subverting sanctions designed to bring Iraq's aggression to an end."
In his speech, Hussein appeared to be preparing Jordanians for the possibility that their country will suffer economically, or worse, for failing to halt trade with Iraq as demanded by a resolution of the U.N. Security Council.
"A change of consumption habits has become a must under these circumstances," he said, "and we have to persuade everybody to follow this course."
The king, who has been in power for 37 years, ordered the government to plan for civil defense training and to set up first-aid clinics throughout the country.
Still, in an apparent effort to lessen anti-American feelings, he urged his citizens to treat foreigners with respect. He said it is "important to keep foreigners as friends supporting our causes through our generosity."
Until now, Hussein had trod more gingerly, saying that his reluctance to criticize Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was due to his effort to be a neutral arbitrator. The unusually blunt language on Sunday came after a series of official expressions lamenting the failure of diplomacy.
Hussein, whose kingdom was carved out by colonial rulers after World War II, has long been considered the most moderate of Arab leaders in his relations with the West.
Relations with Washington became strained after he pulled out of diplomatic efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 1988. Hussein gave up Jordan's claim to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, leaving the field to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
As a result, Washington's tone toward Hussein grew markedly cooler, and the level of U.S. aid declined.
According to Western diplomats in Amman, the United States thought it could nudge Jordan into dealing again with the Palestinian issue--and eventually with Israel--by giving Hussein a cold shoulder. But Hussein, alarmed by right-wing Israeli talk of overthrowing him and setting up a Palestinian state in Jordan, looked elsewhere for allies. In Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, he found an ally perhaps powerful enough even to neutralize Israel.
But in lining up with the Iraqis, the king has risked not only the displeasure of the United States and European countries but also that of the oil-rich states that have helped keep Jordan's economy afloat. Also, tens of thousands of Palestinians who hold Jordanian citizenship could face expulsion from the gulf countries if they are seen as a potential "fifth column." In Kuwait, there have been reports that Palestinians working there welcomed the Iraqi invasion.
"King Hussein has almost nowhere to go," a political analyst here said. "Suddenly, his only protection is Iraq."
Jordan has yet to say whether it will apply the U.N. sanctions fully, if at all. Reports have circulated in Amman that Jordan will seek a compromise, blocking shipments from its lone port of Aqaba but maintaining bilateral trade with Iraq.
The logic behind the proposal is that if Jordan does not close Aqaba, Western navies will blockade it and perhaps embargo trade with Jordan itself. Giving in on this would be accepting an eventual fait accompli . On the other hand, Jordanians say, trade with Iraq is so critical to Jordan's economy that it must be continued.
A total of 40% of Jordan's agricultural and industrial production is sold to Iraq, and Jordan gets about 90% of its oil from Iraq, according to the newspaper Jordan Times.
"The imposition of sanctions by Jordan against Iraq . . . may not cause major damage to the Iraqi economy, but it will devastate the Jordanian economy and cause a loss in excess of half a billion dollars per year," the newspaper said in an editorial.
Rep. Solarz was not sympathetic. "Obviously, for sanctions to be effective, willingness to implement them on the part of Jordan is an important element," he said.
It appears that if King Hussein decides to defy the United States, he will have overwhelming popular support, at least for the time being. The Jordanian population, most of which is Palestinian, has been outspoken against U.S. policy and for Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait. There are reports that thousands of Jordanians have volunteered to fight for Iraq if it is attacked by the United States.
King Hussein seems to view his position as enhancing his nationalist image. He has told Cabinet members to refer to him not as king but as sarif, a designation used by his great-grandfather, who was caretaker of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam.
The title is loaded with Arab nationalist significance. Sarif Hussein, the great-grandfather, refused to sign an agreement after World War I that turned this part of the world into French and British mandates. The title also emphasizes the present king's blood relationship to Mohammed, the prophet and founder of Islam.
By using the title, King Hussein is able to distance himself from his role as monarch, a concept that is under fire by Saddam Hussein. At the same time, he puts himself in the position of defending Mecca and Medina, holy sites in Saudi Arabia, which has accepted foreign, non-Muslim troops on its soil.