President Clinton promised King Hussein of Jordan yesterday to seek forgiveness of Jordan's $700 million debt to the United States, and to ask similar gestures from other creditors, a senior administration official said.
Clinton made the offer at a White House meeting in which the king said he needed tangible benefits to win public support for his efforts to make peace with Israel, the official said.
Hussein told reporters Tuesday that Jordan is prepared to move toward peace with Israel even if Syria is not. Known for his caution, he now appears to have made the decision to enter overtly into bilateral agreements with Israel that could culminate in a full peace treaty.
Clinton told reporters after meeting the king yesterday that he was "very encouraged by where we are now in the whole process."
In their meeting, however, the king said he needed more than oral support and "made a big deal about his debt problem," an administration official said. Debt service consumes about 30 percent of Jordan's budget.
Clinton said he could not simply forgive Jordan's debt to the United States because the write-off would be counted against the budget deficit, the administration official said. Clinton said he would ask Congress to accept the write-off, but told Hussein that "our ability to make that happen will be dependent on Congress being able to see visible manifestation of Jordan's commitment to peace," as happened when Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat publicly signed an agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The president also told Hussein he would encourage Jordan's other creditors in the international lenders' group known as the Club of Paris to be generous in rescheduling Jordan's debt, the official said.
Hussein, who has been widely reported to have met privately with Rabin, said he would be willing to meet him openly if it were useful, and Rabin has said he is ready. But no such meeting is scheduled.
Next month, however, Israeli and Jordanian negotiators are to meet openly in their two countries to resume talks about such issues as water rights and border crossings.