King Abdullah of Jordan arrived here with his family last Thursday for some fun with family and friends, and also for some serious business. Having originally planned a private visit that would conclude in Boston with the role of best man at a former classmate's wedding, Abdullah found himself in the midst of a full working visit.
Along with the throne the 37-year-old monarch inherited from his father, King Hussein, has come the burden of lifting Jordan from its economic doldrums. The resource-poor kingdom is $7 billion in debt, has 20 percent unemployment and a sluggish 1 percent growth rate. And peace with Israel has not led to the prosperity Jordanians had hoped for.
So, in addition to meeting with President Clinton yesterday and having breakfast at the Georgetown home of Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, the king has held a round of meetings with executives from high-tech companies here, and he plans to do the same in Boston with help from Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
"The king is very interested in developing the high-tech and software industry in Jordan. We have been meeting with a lot of companies that have shown an interest, such as America Online and others in Virginia, since we have a large number of inexpensive and skilled laborers," said Ambassador Marwan Muasher in explaining Jordan's strategy to promote itself as a destination for American investment.
Jordan has recently enacted property copyright laws to enhance its hopes of joining the World Trade Organization before the end of the year, and will privatize its telecommunications industry this month. Abdullah is seeking help in persuading Jordan's creditors to forgive a large part of its debt.
On the political front, Jordan's interests are sure to be affected by the upcoming final status talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. "We are directly involved," Muasher said. "We house 40 percent of Palestinian refugees in the whole world, and all of them are Jordanian citizens."
Asked about reports that Abdullah may be carrying a message from Iraq, Muasher said, "We want to emphasize that the king is here to discuss Jordanian themes, not to plead the Iraqi case."
In between his official meetings, Abdullah managed to sneak away for a lunch at trendy Cafe Milano in Georgetown. There, he ran into a friend who ribbed him about seeing three movies over the weekend, among them "Three Kings," about U.S. soldiers in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. His friend said that he, too, was going to the movie--with President Clinton on Thursday night.
No you're not, Abdullah told him. He said he'd talked Clinton out of seeing it.
Panama Countdown Begins
Juan B. Sosa, president of the U.S.-Panama Business Council and former Panamanian ambassador here, is working around the clock and will probably be doing so until the New Year.
Ten years ago, he helped lead the diplomatic fight against Gen. Manuel Noriega. Sosa came here as Panama's ambassador under President Eric Arturo Delvalle in 1987. But Noriega ousted Delvalle in February 1988, and for a while the embassy here became the nerve center of Panama's government-in-exile.
But ever since the creation of the business council four years ago, Sosa has been worrying about how transfer of the Panama Canal to Panamanian control at midnight on New Year's Eve will affect the business community.
"This is as important as Hong Kong changing to Chinese hands," he said. "The special relationship between Panama and the United States will change. Previously it was based on the administration of the canal and the military bases which are being phased out. Because of this umbrella business, now we need to reengineer this relationship."
This week 150 business leaders and entrepreneurs are coming from Panama for the celebrations leading up to the handover, and special panels will address concerns about the handover as well as business opportunities.
There will be fancy breakfasts and an awards lunch Friday, with former secretary of state Henry Kissinger giving the keynote speech at the Atrium Ballroom in the Ronald Reagan Building, and a black-tie gala at the Organization of American States building. The band of Osvaldo Ayala will play Panamanian music.
International celebrations of the handover begin in mid-December, when the countdown will start and those Panama hats can finally be tossed into the air.
Diplomats at the embassy of Pakistan were huddled in meetings all day yesterday, closely following the news of what was unfolding on the streets of Islamabad and awaiting instructions from "the general."
Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, the army chief Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to fire, was in charge. Sources close to the embassy said there had been contact with Islamabad, but diplomats refused to comment.
CAPTION: King Abdullah arrives at the White House to meet with President Clinton.