AMMAN, Jordan — The United States agreed Wednesday to further expand assistance to Jordan despite steep cuts proposed in foreign aid overall and disagreements over the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Jordanian counterpart, Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi, signed a memo of understanding to give Jordan at least $1.275 billion a year annually over the next five years. That replaces a previous three-year commitment of $1 billion annually, boosting total U.S. assistance by more than $1.3 billion over the five-year period.
The new agreement further cements Jordan’s status as one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid, along with Israel and Egypt.
The increase comes two months after Jordan was among the 128 countries in the United Nations that urged Washington to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Later, the Trump administration said it planned to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as early as next year.
After the lopsided vote against the administration’s decision, President Trump vowed to cut foreign aid to countries that do not back U.S. priorities, and U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley threatened to “take names.”
Wednesday’s agreement with Jordan, however, underscores how practical considerations of proximity and politics can override domestic political calculations, making it difficult for the administration to live up to its America First rhetoric.
“We have differences, as any countries may have from time to time, over tactics, I think more than final objectives,” Tillerson said in a joint conference in which both diplomats were asked about the gap in positions over Jerusalem. “I think our final objectives are quite clear and they’re shared.”
Safadi was more succinct, saying, “We’re partners. We’re friends. We’re committed to working together.”
Tillerson said the new aid package will support political and economic programs in Jordan, and ease the effects of regional crises, most recently the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq. At least $750 million annually will be economic aid, and at least $350 million is military assistance.
The commitment is just a baseline, and in practice it can be much more.
In fiscal 2017, according to State Department figures, Jordan is getting $1.3 billion in bilateral assistance, plus an additional $200 million in military aid from the Defense Department budget. Since the start of the Syrian conflict, Jordan also has received $1.1 billion in U.S. humanitarian aid to help cope with the flood of refugees.
Jordan presents one of the strongest cases for Trump to ignore his own recommendation that foreign aid be pegged to countries considered “friends” who side with the United States in votes at the United Nations.
If that were the sole criterion, Jordan would end up on the losing side. In December it voted against the United States in the U.N. General Assembly over Jerusalem. It also has criticized the withholding of $65 million for UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees. Many Jordanians have Palestinian origins.
But other factors are paramount in the case of Jordan as it has struggled economically during the refugee crisis. Although it is a middle-class country, Jordan is now the largest recipient of funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Jordan is considered key to reviving Middle East peace negotiations. Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab countries to have full diplomatic relations with Israel. And Jordan’s King Abdullah II is the custodian of holy sites in Jerusalem, including the al-Aqsa Mosque compound — on a site that is also holy to Jews.
Tillerson is not visiting Israel on this trip to the region. Instead, his stops include other countries nearby, including Egypt and Lebanon.
Tillerson on Wednesday seemed to suggest he has been largely on the periphery of White House deliberations over a plan still being developed to get Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate and end decades of conflict. Asked about reports that the White House is about to unveil its plan, Tillerson said he would leave it to the president to explain timing and details.
“I don’t want to get in front of the president, or his team that’s been working on that,” Tillerson said. “I have seen the plan. It’s been under development for a number of months. I have consulted with them on the plan, and identified areas that we feel need some work.”
He described the plan as “fairly well-advanced.”