Jordan's King Names Technocrat New PM

The Associated Press
Friday, November 23, 2007; 12:32 AM

AMMAN, Jordan -- Jordan's King Abdullah II named a former air force official to be the country's new prime minister, asking him to form a Cabinet that will press ahead with an agenda that includes economic reforms and support for Palestinian statehood.

Nader Al-Dahabi, 61, a technocrat who previously ran a special economic zone in the Red Sea resort city of Aqaba, replaces Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit, who resigned following parliamentary elections.

A liberal politician, al-Dahabi is expected to embrace Abdullah's reform plan, nurture close ties with the United States and pursue a peaceful settlement in the lingering Arab-Israeli conflict. His appointment comes just days ahead of a U.S.-hosted Mideast conference that the parties hope will lead to a breakthrough in peace negotiations.

In a letter broadcast on state television Thursday, Abdullah instructed al-Dahabi to maintain "strategic relations" with Arab countries, saying this would help "the Palestinian issue, which is the core of our priorities and interests."

"Your task is to employ Jordan's Arab relations and national capabilities to help the brotherly Palestinian people achieve independence and establish a viable state," the letter said.

The premier-designate is expected to form his Cabinet as soon as Sunday, a senior government official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make statements to media.

The official said that between seven and 10 ministers from the previous government may end up keeping their posts, but Foreign Minister Abdul-Illah al-Khatib is likely to be replaced.

Earlier Thursday, al-Bakhit's 26-member Cabinet resigned following the expiration of its mandate after parliamentary elections this week.

Tuesday's vote saw pro-government loyalists win a majority in the 110-seat parliament, while Islamist opposition took only six seats _ 11 less than the number they held in the previous parliament elected in 2003.

Abdullah's letter said that at home, al-Dahabi's priority is to improve the economy of cash-strapped Jordan, which is saddled by a multibillion dollar foreign debt and soaring unemployment.

The Jordanian opposition accuses the government of slow strides toward political reform, thought to be slowed down by fears of the rising influence of militants.

Since his accession to the throne in 1999, Abdullah has given wider freedoms to women, endorsed several independent radio stations and, for the first time, allowed local elections of officials who used to be appointed by the government.

Still, plans for implementing wider public and media freedoms and a larger role for opposition parties have been put on the back burner.

© 2007 The Associated Press