Monday’s White House visit by Abdullah was “a reaffirmation of the uniquely close relationship between the White House and Jordan” that had prevailed with every modern president until Donald Trump, said a source close to Abdullah, who added, “The king had no one behind him the last four years.” The embrace was all the sweeter because Abdullah is the first Arab leader to visit the Biden White House.
Abdullah had faced a three-pronged squeeze — from Trump, the Saudi crown prince, who’s known as MBS, and former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — that destabilized his regime. The monarchy was shaken in April by a plot that included a Saudi-backed Jordanian businessman, a Jordanian tribal leader and the king’s own half brother, Prince Hamzah, as I described last month.
In his renewed role as a representative of moderate, pro-Western Arabs, Abdullah brought several messages to Biden, the source close to the king reported.
The Jordanian monarch urged Biden to back Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who will visit the White House next week. Kadhimi told me last week in Baghdad that he would ask Biden to withdraw U.S. combat troops but continue U.S. military training, intelligence support and other aid.
“If anyone can help us control the Iranian militias in Iraq, it’s this guy,” the king told Biden, according to the source. He argued that Kadhimi has broad Arab backing — from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well as Jordan. The Biden team said it intends to support Kadhimi, the source said.
Abdullah also urged Biden to join a task force to help stabilize Syria, following its catastrophic civil war. The approach Abdullah advocates would bring together the United States, Russia, Israel, Jordan and other nations to agree on a road map for restoring Syrian sovereignty and unity.
Biden hasn’t yet committed to that proposal, which would mean controversial decisions to cooperate with both Russia and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Work on this task force might begin as early as this fall, if the United States agrees, the source said.
A final major area of discussion was Jordan’s relationship with the new Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. Abdullah described a reassuring meeting he had with Bennett recently, and said he believed the two governments could cooperate on security and other issues, the source said. Although Jordan and Israel have a peace treaty, relations frayed during Netanyahu’s long tenure as prime minister.
Despite Abdullah’s fraught relationship with the Saudi crown prince, the Jordanian monarch told Biden, “we have to work with MBS,” the source said. Perhaps that’s the sweetest part of being Washington’s favorite again: Abdullah feels strong enough that he can afford to be generous to those, like MBS, who tried to undermine him.