King Abdullah II of Jordan faces economic woes and other issues as he promotes ‘peace-affirming Islam’


It’s been a busy U.S. visit for Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

Abdullah last Friday met with Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, national security advisor John Bolton, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

He participated in a Monday news conference at the White House with President Trump, thanking the president for “his grace and humility” and had dinner with Vice President Mike Pence. The next day he met with various House and Senate leaders.

On Wednesday, Abdullah was named the 2018 Templeton Prize recipient by the Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation, which recognized his “long quest to promote peace-affirming Islam” and his efforts “to seek religious harmony within Islam and between Islam and other religions.” The prize is valued at about $1.4 million.


Abdullah, who is expected to receive the Templeton Prize in a Nov. 13 ceremony in Washington, has been on a charm offensive as Jordan’s perennial balancing act involving finances and peace lurches under substantial stress.

The country recently saw tens of thousands of protesters in the streets because of a controversial tax bill and austerity measures by the government, leading Abdullah to dissolve the existing government. But the nation still faces pressure from creditors, and a new government may have few options besides austerity and taxes.

Jordan also finds itself among the countries the Trump administration is involving in preparing an expected peace plan for the Middle East. Abdullah last week met in Amman with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, and Jason Greenblatt, the special envoy for the Mideast.

A Trump administration plan to help resolve ongoing conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians faces significant challenges considering that Trump sided with Israel by recognizing the disputed holy city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The administration also ordered the U.S. Embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Analysts said Abdullah has concerns about whether a peace plan might hurt Jordan. The concerns include what happens to the Palestinian refugees already living in Jordan, the chances for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians with East Jerusalem as the future Palestinian capital and whether Abdullah would lose his status as the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites, they said.

“It’s symbolic, but it gives [Abdullah] legitimacy as a pan-Arab actor,” said Sean Yom, a Jordan expert at Temple University.


Another concern is Syria, where a years-long truce in the country’s southern region brokered by the U.S., Russia and Jordan is failing.

Syrian government troops this month began a Russian-backed offensive to oust the rebels from their bastions in the south, which borders Jordan as well as the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Like assaults on other opposition redoubts in the past, the heavy air and artillery strikes have already uprooted tens of thousands of people in recent days according to the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator’s office.

But Jordan, which hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, insisted its border will remain sealed.

“Jordan is doing all it can to meet needs of 1.3 million Syrians. It can’t host more. Consequences of new escalation [is the] responsibility of those behind it,” tweeted Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on Sunday.

Though it’s unclear what results came from Abdullah’s meetings with U.S. officials, Jordanian state media have relentlessly promoted the trip as a success, especially Abdullah’s meeting with Trump.

“The scope of these talks made them stand out as among the most momentous discussions ever held between the two leaders,” said an editorial from the state-owned English-language daily Jordan Times. “Obviously the two leaders struck stronger and deeper rapport with each other. This bodes well for the bilateral relations between the two countries on several fronts.”

Bulos is a special correspondent.