Relations with the Arab States

Jordan Table of Contents

In 1989 Jordan maintained relatively cordial relations with most other Arab states. Jordan's closest ties were with Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. King Hussein made frequent trips to these countries to confer with their leaders on regional and international strategy. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Arab oilproducers provided Jordan with financial aid in accordance with guidelines originally agreed on at the November 1978 Baghdad Summit. The total amount of these grants had declined dramatically by 1984 because of the budgetary problems that depressed oil prices caused in petroleum-producing countries. Nonetheless, they remained an important source of total government revenue for Jordan.

Jordan's close relations with Iraq developed as a result of Hussein's strong support for President Saddam Husayn during the latter's eight-year war with Iran (1980-88). The monarch's ardent backing of Saddam was attributable at least in part to his fears that a collapse of the Iraqi regime could result in Jordan's eastern neighbor being ruled by a radicalized Shia religious government allied to Iran. The relationship also benefited Jordan in various ways. For example, Jordan's only port, Al Aqabah, served throughout the war as a major transshipment center for Iraqi imports. Goods off-loaded at Al Aqabah were trucked overland to Iraq by Jordanian transportation companies, in the process generating local employment, handling fees, and profitable business. Jordan also exported a variety of light consumer goods to Iraq, although the value and volume of this trade fluctuated in accordance with Iraqi foreign exchange problems. Both during and after the war, Iraq, whose army used primarily Soviet-made equipment, periodically gave to Jordan United States- and Britishmade military hardware captured from Iran, including at least sixty United States-manufactured M-47 tanks.

In 1984 Jordan became the first Arab state to reestablish diplomatic relations with Egypt. Hussein had begun advocating Egypt's reintegration into the Arab community of nations as early as 1981. The king perceived Egypt as an effective bulwark against the spread of radical Islamic political movements that he believed were being engendered by the Iran-Iraq War. Following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the expulsion of the PLO from that country, unofficial consultations with Egypt on regional security issues became routine. PLO chief Arafat's trip to Egypt in December 1983--the first by an Arab leader since the Baghdad Summit of November 1978--paved the way for Jordan's resumption of official relations without fear of being branded a traitor to Arab nationalism.

Following the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jordan and Egypt became extremely close allies. Hussein frequently praised Egyptian president Husni Mubarak as one of the Arab world's great leaders. Mubarak supported Hussein's pro-Iraq policy, his efforts to involve moderate Palestinians in the peace process, and his call for an international peace conference. Hussein and Arafat met several times on "neutral" Egyptian territory; when their personal relations were tense, such as in 1986-87, Mubarak mediated and kept them on civil terms. Hussein reciprocated Mubarak's diplomatic support by trying to persuade other Arab heads of state that Egypt should be readmitted to the League of Arab States (Arab League). In February 1989 Egypt and Jordan joined with Iraq and the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) to form a new Arab Cooperation Council, a regional organization modeled after the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Jordan's relations with Syria were correct in 1989, although there had been considerable strain between them during most of the previous two decades. In September 1970, a Syrian military unit had crossed into Jordan to aid the Palestinian guerrillas who were fighting the Jordanian army. The Syrian force was repulsed, but relations remained tense and were severed in July 1971. Relations with Syria improved briefly following the October 1973 War, but deteriorated again by the late 1970s. Syria apparently feared Hussein's close ties with Washington would involve Jordan in the Camp David process. When religiously inspired disturbances broke out in Aleppo and other Syrian cities during the winter of 1979-80, the government immediately suspected--and accused--Jordan of complicity. In addition, Syria had a bitter rivalry with Iraq. Damascus perceived Amman's support of Iraq in that country's war with Iran (initiated by an Iraqi invasion of Iran in September 1980) as confirmation of conspiracy theories about Baghdad trying to encircle Syria. By the end of 1980, relations between Jordan and Syria had deteriorated to such an extent that military clashes appeared possible along the common border where both countries had massed troops. The escalating tension eventually was defused by Saudi Arabian diplomatic intervention, although relations remained strained.

Jordan broke diplomatic relations with Syria in 1981, charging Damascus with plotting to assassinate its prime minister and kidnapping its ambassador to Lebanon. For the next five years, the two neighbors were estranged. Amman accused Syria of assisting radical Palestinian groups who carried out several political killings of Jordanian diplomats in Europe and the Middle East. Tentative efforts to improve relations in 1983-84 were aborted by Syrian denunciation of Jordan's resumption of relations with Egypt. Finally, in the fall and winter of 1985-86, Saudi Arabia mediated reconciliation talks that led to a restoration of diplomatic ties. In May 1986, the Jordanian prime minister became the first highranking official from Amman to visit Syria since 1977. Relations between Jordan and Syria gradually improved since then.

Jordan maintained cordial relations with the Arab states of the Persian Gulf in 1989. These countries--Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates--were collectively Jordan's most important source of foreign financial aid. The level of their assistance, especially that from Kuwait, has fallen, however, since 1981. Thousands of Jordanians and Palestinians holding Jordanian passports continued to work in the Persian Gulf in business, government, education, and engineering. The remittances they sent to their families in Jordan, especially those living in the refugee camps, represented a significant proportion of Jordan's foreign exchange earnings. The Persian Gulf countries also were markets for Jordanian agricultural and consumer exports.

Jordan's relations with the other Arab states--excepting Libya- -were generally good in 1989. Tensions existed over economic policy between Jordan and Morocco, however, as both countries exported phosphates. The amount of Jordan's reserves of these minerals and the value of its exports were significantly less than those of Morocco, a major international producer. Jordan, which traditionally exported its phosphates to Southeast Asia, complained that Morocco had stolen its Asian markets between 1985 and 1987 by deliberately selling its phosphates at prices lower than it cost Jordan to mine and transport the minerals.

Jordan had a history of tense relations with Libya, deriving from Libyan support since 1970 for Palestinian guerrilla groups opposed to Hussein. The most serious incident between the two countries occurred in February 1984, when the Jordanian embassy in Tripoli was destroyed during demonstrations organized by the Libyan government to protest Hussein's support of Arafat and his call for reconciliation with Egypt. Jordan broke diplomatic relations following this episode. In 1988 Jordan received a Libyan delegation sent to Amman to discuss normalizing relations between the two countries.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress