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Forgiveness Is a Virtue : U.S. and Jordan both gain from erasure of debt

Jordan’s longtime warm relations with the United States turned gelid in 1990 when King Hussein, miscalculating wildly, decided it would be politically expedient to support Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and, by extension, the despoliation and brutality that followed.

Making matters worse, Jordan continued an extensive cross-border trade with Iraq, in defiance of a U.N.-ordered embargo.

Washington responded by cutting off virtually all help to the country it had long regarded as one of its closest Arab friends. Even more painfully, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf oil producers suspended their cash subsidies. The economy of Jordan, never very strong, suffered a substantial blow.

By last summer, however, it appeared that the traditional U.S.-Jordan relationship had been restored. In an extraordinary moment, King Hussein and Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met in Washington to announce an end to the 46-year-old conflict between their countries. To welcome this historic shift and to strengthen Jordan, the Clinton Administration announced that the United States would erase Jordan’s debt.

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Debt-forgiveness is nothing new in U.S. relations with other nations. In Jordan’s case it’s clearly justified as a way to bolster moderate forces in a country and a region where anti-Western religious extremism has been growing, in no small part because of low and inequitable economic growth. The Clinton Administration promised to write off $480 million in Jordanian debt over two years.

That promise, made before Congress came under Republican control, seemed to be threatened when the House earlier this year voted to limit Jordanian debt relief to $50 million. It took the king’s personal lobbying on Capitol Hill this week to clear up what is now described as a misunderstanding over the relief package.

The prospects thus seem good for early congressional approval of full debt forgiveness. Peace with Israel is of course very much in Jordan’s interests. But it has taken courage for Hussein to choose full peace and the extensive normalization agreements that are following it. That courage clearly serves the U.S. stake in promoting a more stable Middle East.


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