During his visit last week to the United States, the Jordanian foreign minister told top U.S. officials that the Arab world seeks improved relations with Iran, insisting that all Arab partners want warmer ties with the Iranian regime.
“However, to reach… amicable ties, we must discuss the reasons for the [unstable] Arab-Iranian ties,” stated Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister. “One of the reasons is Iran’s interference in the Arab region, and this interference must stop in order to build Arab-Iranian ties.”
The Arab world, including Jordan, has accused Shiite Iran of seeking to establish a Shiite crescent of influence at the expense of the predominantly Sunni Arab world. During his visit to the U.S., Safadi tried to downplay the Jordanian king’s previous comment on rivalry between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam in the Middle East region.
“The king was speaking from a political point of view, not a sectarian or religious manner, about Iran’s role in the region and any policies that harm Arab interests,” said Safadi.
Jordan, a U.S. ally, has traditionally balanced its comparative pro-Western political outlook while maintaining complex relations with powerful anti-American players in the Middle East, such as Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the past. Today, Jordan faces the challenge of ongoing tensions with the Iranian ayatollah regime.
Jordanian King Abdullah II expressed his concern for the Iranian regime’s malicious influence in the Middle East during an interview with CNN in July 2021.
“Jordan always supports dialogue…[but] there are legitimate concerns in our part of the world on a lot of portfolios that the Americans are hopefully going to discuss with the Iranians. [Attacks on] Israel from Syria and Lebanon to an extent, and what misses Israel, sometimes lands in Jordan,” said the Jordanian king.
King Abdullah also accused the ayatollah regime in Tehran of cyber-attacks on neighboring countries in the Middle East region.
“And add to that increased cyberattacks on many of our countries,” the Jordanian king continued. “The firefights on our borders have increased almost to the times when we were at the high end with Daesh and unfortunately, Jordan has been attacked by drones that have come out, that are Iranian signature that we have had to deal within the past year or so and escalated.”
Sandwiched between, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel, Jordan has always been sensitive to dramatic regional developments that could potentially undermine the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and its stability. In recent years, Jordan has been particularly influenced by the devastating civil wars in neighboring Syria and Iraq. In 2019, the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, estimated that 744,795 persons were registered as refugees in Jordan. The overwhelming majority were Syrians but there were also refugees from Iraq, Yemen and Sudan. This large number represents more than 7% of Jordan’s total population of 10 million and affects the country’s long-term stability, especially should Jordan’s refugee population continue to grow.
As the second Arab country to make peace with the Jewish state in 1994, Jordan’s top diplomat also stressed the importance of resolving the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict. Safadi stressed that there was no viable alternative to the two-state solution and a failure to implement it would lead to a one-state solution which would “institutionalize apartheid,” warned the Jordanian foreign minister.
U.S.-Jordanian relations deteriorated during the former Trump administration but have improved dramatically during U.S. President Joe Biden’s term as president. The Jordanian foreign minister welcomed Washington’s renewed diplomatic focus on the two-state solution.
“We must build on this momentum. It’s an effort that we’re trying to all work on,” stated Safadi.
With a large percentage of citizens of Palestinian-Arab descent, Jordan is perhaps more influenced by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than any other country in the Arab world. During the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, Jordan occupied the West Bank but eventually renounced its claims to the contested territory in 1988. However, Jordan still claims guardianship over the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City.
In 1921, Great Britain created Transjordan (later Jordan) by detaching the territory east of the Jordan River from the rest of the Palestine Mandate. While Jordan constitutes 75% of the former Palestine Mandate, its ruling Hashemite family descends from Bedouin tribes in the Saudi Hejaz region. In the 1970s, Arafat’s PLO openly clashed with and challenged the Jordanian royal family’s rule, causing serious tensions within Jordanian society and beyond.
The Jordanian royal family has been particularly concerned by calls to establish a Palestinian-Arab state in Jordan as a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.