Harboring Iraqis Pays Off for Jordan : Mideast: Rewards of sheltering defectors include likely meeting between King Hussein and Saudi monarch. Nation is told not to fear retaliation.
King Hussein started reaping diplomatic rewards Monday for his decision to grant senior Iraqi officials asylum here and assured Jordanians that the kingdom need not fear Iraqi retaliation.
Saudi Arabia began speeding what had been a tentative, reluctant reconciliation with Jordan, inviting Jordanian Foreign Minister Karim Kabariti to Riyadh today to arrange for a summit between King Hussein and Saudi King Fahd.
The two leaders have not been on speaking terms since the 1990 Persian Gulf crisis, when the Jordanian monarch sympathized with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait. Fahd since has rebuffed every effort by King Hussein to reconcile.
But the Saudis appear ready to mend fences now that the Jordanian king has taken in Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel Majid and his brother, senior Iraqi officials. They arrived here Aug. 8, bringing with them their wives, who are two of Saddam Hussein’s daughters, and other Iraqi officers and their families.
Fahd sent Turki al Faisal, a prince and head of Saudi intelligence, to Jordan on Sunday to discuss Majid’s defection and to invite Kabariti for his second visit to Riyadh in a month.
The Saudi gesture was a partial antidote for the shock many Jordanians expressed after Majid emerged from hiding Saturday for a news conference at the Raghadan Palace in downtown Amman.
Majid, who was Iraq’s minister of military industrialization, called for the overthrow of his father-in-law and said he was contacting the Iraqi opposition. His remarks were carried live on state-run Jordanian television.
Members of Parliament expressed concern in the press here Monday that Majid’s news conference suggested that Jordan might work to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In a country that prides itself on being hospitable, there seemed to be widespread support for granting the Majids and their entourage asylum. But there was little stomach for Jordan’s involvement in any overt or covert efforts to topple the leader of a neighboring land.
Government officials insisted the kingdom’s policy toward Iraq was unchanged. But King Hussein echoed Majid’s statement that the time has come for change in Iraq when he spoke with Yediot Aharonot, an Israeli newspaper. “This is the right time for change, but it’s not possible to determine” when it will happen, he told the paper in an interview published Monday. “If a change will be made, it will only be a change for the good.”
The king said he believes that Majid’s defection “was a shock, and I hope that this move will ensure the beginning of a new era, and a new life for the Iraqi people.”
King Hussein did not say how Jordan might hasten change in Iraq. Prime Minister Sharif Zayed Shaker told the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday that Jordan will not let Majid run an opposition party from Amman.
“The prime minister told us that Jordan will not allow any aggressive acts against any of its neighbors,” said Abdullah Nsour, the committee chief. “He was crystal clear in saying that Gen. Hussein Kamel is only a political refugee in Jordan who will not be allowed to wage any aggressive acts. We are not heading toward any confrontation with Iraq.”
Jordanian Sen. Kamal Shair said he believes that Iraq’s options for retaliating against Jordan are limited. “We are their only gateway to the outside world,” Shair said.
Since the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Iraq after its August, 1990, invasion of Kuwait, Iraq’s chief outlet for the transport of goods and people has been its long border with Jordan.
“If they take actions [against Jordan], the immediate response will be the closure of the border,” Shair said.
One likely subject for discussion at Kabariti’s Saudi meetings, Jordanian officials said, will be the prospect of Riyadh replacing Baghdad as Jordan’s primary oil supplier, should the need arise. Jordan has a Security Council exemption to buy Iraqi oil at low cost and to receive some of it as in-kind payment for Jordanian goods the Iraqis bought on credit before the Persian Gulf War.
King Hussein is no doubt hoping that his decision to grant refuge to the man the U.S. government is calling the most important Iraqi official to defect will yield still more tangible diplomatic gains.
Before the Gulf War, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait sent millions of dollars in aid annually to Jordan. The Kuwaitis and Saudis also employed hundreds of thousands of Jordanian workers who supplied important revenue by sending much of their wages to their families here.
After the Gulf War, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait expelled most of their Jordanian residents and broke relations with Jordan. King Hussein was vilified by Saudi and Kuwaiti leaders as a traitor who had plotted with Saddam Hussein to overthrow the Gulf regimes and install himself on the throne in Riyadh.
In the aftermath of the war and Iraq’s defeat at the hands of the U.S.-led international coalition, King Hussein has worked diligently to repair his relations with the Gulf states and the U.S. government.
He moved a long way toward rehabilitation with the United States in October, when he signed a peace treaty with Israel. That move earned him forgiveness for half a billion dollars’ worth of mostly military debt with the United States and some new military assistance. But it yielded no new financial assistance.