Adm. Mullen, U.S. diplomat visit Jordan, urge reform in wake of Egypt uprising

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2011; 11:59 PM

AMMAN, JORDAN - An American diplomatic envoy and the top-ranking U.S. military officer paid separate visits to Jordan over the weekend to show support for King Abdullah II - and to prod him toward speedy political reforms in the aftermath of the uprising in Egypt that toppled another key ally of Washington.

William J. Burns, U.S. undersecretary of political affairs and a former ambassador to Jordan, met the king and his newly appointed prime minister, Marouf al-Bakhit, "to support Jordan's program of reform and help it keep ahead of the unrest in the region," said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the discussions.

The State Department said Burns "emphasized the strong, long-term American commitment to the well-being of Jordan" and "underscored American support for a sustained, serious and comprehensive program of political and economic reform."

Pressured by unrest across the Arab world and street demonstrations at home by Jordanians angered by price increases and alleged government corruption, Abdullah replaced the prime minister this month and ordered speedy action to reform Jordan's political system and economy.

The United States is urging Abdullah to take tangible steps now to address public grievances, a lesson learned from the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose offers of concessions to protesters were rejected as too little, too late.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met separately with Abdullah on Sunday before continuing on to Israel, where there is worry that a new Egyptian government could be far less friendly than Mubarak's regime. A Pentagon spokesman said before Mullen's trip that it was meant to "reassure both these key partners of the U.S. military's commitment to that partnership."

The shock waves from Mubarak's fall have unsettled the Jordanian leadership, which is facing increasing public discontent. So far, however, the criticism has not been leveled directly at the monarchy, widely seen as a unifying force that has given Jordan stability and security.

"There is growing criticism of the king's policies," said Labib Kamhawi, a political analyst. "No one wants to see a change in the regime as such."

Still, the authorities have in recent days shown heightened sensitivity to foreign media coverage of discontent in the kingdom.

In a rare step, the royal court published a statement last week condemning as "defamatory" a news story written by the Amman bureau chief of Agence France-Presse, Randa Habib. The story cited a letter, signed by 36 members of Bedouin tribes, that called for wide-ranging reforms and directly criticized Abdullah's wife, Queen Rania.

The tribes are normally a bedrock of support for the monarchy, but the letter alleged that the queen was interfering in the affairs of state, and it denounced a birthday celebration for her in September in the scenic desert area of Wadi Rum in southern Jordan as a lavish excess "at the expense of the treasury and the poor."

The palace statement called the allegations unfounded and threatened legal action against the agency and Habib.

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