The Cable
The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

The King of Jordan Meets the King of Queens

Experts say a heavy burden rests on Abdullah's shoulder.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy, and , a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews.
king of jordan
king of jordan

U.S. President Donald Trump met Jordanian King Abdullah at the White House Wednesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump met Jordanian King Abdullah at the White House Wednesday.

The meeting was hotly anticipated, and not without reason — a president who ran on the idea of keeping Muslims out of the United States and vowed to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was to receive the king widely seen as the key moderating force in the Middle East.

Wedged between Israel, Iraq, and Syria, Jordan plays an outsized role in the roiling landscape of Middle East politics. It’s widely seen as a moderating, dependable Western ally and key go-between for Washington and the Arab world.

“Jordan is not just an island of stability, but an island of reliability,” said Ilan Goldenberg, Middle East expert at Washington-based think tank Center for a New American Security. “They’re by far our most reliable Arab partner.”

Tensions still simmer beneath the surface, primarily over Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, controversial policies on Israel, and repeated attempts to ban citizens from Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States.

But if anyone can navigate the tightrope of Middle East politics in the Trump era, it’s Abdullah. “Through moderate policies and an unabashedly pro-American orientation, Amman has attained an extremely rare status on Capitol Hill — bipartisan support,” wrote former Pentagon official David Schenker, now at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy.

Abdullah can also navigate Washington politics “better than any Arab leader,” said Goldenberg, a former senior Pentagon and State Department advisor on Middle East policy. “There’s a lot riding on this man’s shoulders,” he added.

The two leaders have a packed meeting agenda. They’ll talk shop on the ongoing fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, which Trump and other administration officials say is the administration’s top foreign policy priority.

At a joint press briefing, Trump and Abdullah did indeed address Syria. Tuesday’s chemical attack, the president said, “crossed a lot of lines” for him. And though he once again blamed the Obama administration, he acknowledged that it is now his responsibility.

“What happened yesterday is unacceptable to me,” he said, though he stopped short of blaming Russia for backing Assad, as his U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, did earlier Wednesday. Abdullah, for his part, thanked Trump for additional American financial support for the additional refugees Jordan is hosting, and said Tuesday’s events are a reminder of the failure of international diplomacy so far to find a solution in Syria.

Abdullah is slated to bring the Arab consensus perspective on the Israel-Palestine issue and will reportedly push for a solid pledge from Trump to revive peace talks. Trump and his controversial hardliner ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, temporarily backed off on their pledge to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a move experts say would stoke new tensions in the region’s smoldering political tinderbox.

Jordan in the past called the Israel-Palestine conflict the root cause of the region’s political turmoil and Abdullah may have played a hand in delaying Trump’s promise to move the embassy during his last visit to Washington in January, when he met with Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s son-in-law turned White House advisor Jared Kushner days after Trump’s inauguration.

At the press conference, Abdullah reiterated his belief that this is the core conflict in the region. He said he has been encouraged by early signs of the Trump administration’s approach to the conflict, and assured his audience that Trump “understands the nuances and challenges” of the problem.

Abdullah will also likely try to secure a promise from Trump that aid to Jordan won’t be on the chopping block in the president’s move to gut the U.S. foreign aid budget. Jordan received an estimated $1.4 billion in U.S. foreign assistance funding in 2016, according to the Congressional Research Service. Experts say the assistance is key to shoring up Jordan’s stability and political support.

Meanwhile, Queen Rania, who is known for her advocacy work related to education and community empowerment, met with U.S. First Lady Melania Trump for a lunch and a visit to a local elementary school.

Update, Apr. 5 2017, 2:20 pm ET: This piece was updated to include remarks made at the joint press conference. 

Photo credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Emily Tamkin is a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews. She was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2016-2018. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

Read More On Jordan

More from Foreign Policy

Children are hooked up to IV drips on the stairs at a children's hospital in Beijing.
Children are hooked up to IV drips on the stairs at a children's hospital in Beijing.

Chinese Hospitals Are Housing Another Deadly Outbreak

Authorities are covering up the spread of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.

Henry Kissinger during an interview in Washington in August 1980.
Henry Kissinger during an interview in Washington in August 1980.

Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage

The late statesman was a master of realpolitik—whom some regarded as a war criminal.

A Ukrainian soldier in helmet and fatigues holds a cell phone and looks up at the night sky as an explosion lights up the horizon behind him.
A Ukrainian soldier in helmet and fatigues holds a cell phone and looks up at the night sky as an explosion lights up the horizon behind him.

The West’s False Choice in Ukraine

The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat.

Illustrated portraits of Reps. MIke Gallagher, right, and Raja Krishnamoorthi
Illustrated portraits of Reps. MIke Gallagher, right, and Raja Krishnamoorthi

The Masterminds

Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.