Mike Pence’s Middle East Tour: Outright Pressure and Threats as Foreign Policy Tools

Jordan’s King Abdullah II wants Washington to “rebuild trust “after US President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The king believes that East Jerusalem must be the capital of Palestine. According to him, from now on the US has a “major challenge to overcome”. “Friends occasionally have disagreements,” Mike Pence said ruefully in his comments on the outcome of the talks. The disagreement came into the open.

The vice president was making his Middle East trip (Jan.19-23) to include three states: Egypt, Jordan and Israel. The Palestinian Autonomy leaders refused to meet him. Egypt was the first country he arrived in to hear that Cairo does not support the US move.

Jordan and Egypt are a special case. They are the only Arab nations to have diplomatic ties and peace accords with Israel. Both are threatened by Islamist militants and would be potential key mediators if peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians were ever revived.

Despite the fact that Jordan is a key member of the US-led coalition formally created to fight the Islamic State (IS), the kingdom has strongly opposed the US administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel announced by President Trump on Dec. 6. Protests have been held in front of the US embassy in Amman ever since. King Abdullah has led intensive diplomatic efforts to build a stronger Arab front and rally international support behind it.

According to Debka, the vice president warned Egyptian and Jordanian leaders of painful times ahead if they don’t stop opposing the US policy. Washington can revise its plans to continue providing economic and military assistance. Besides, Vice President Pence asked them to convey a message to Palestinians that Washington “would block Palestinian Authority access to funding from Western and international institutions”.

Before that, the US had threatened to cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the international body responsible for the welfare of roughly five million registered Palestinian refugees. Jordan provides refuge to about two million of the refugees from Palestine. So, the menace is real and the United States makes no bones about its plans.

Riyadh has joined the US efforts to press Amman but it stood tall. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are pressing Jordan to abandon its stance on Jerusalem and suspend the ties with Turkey and Qatar. King Abdullah of Jordan provocatively placed his religious role on a par with that of the Saudi royal family on Dec. 31, proclaiming himself the Servant of the First Qibla and Third Holy Mosque (Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem). It was an obvious challenge to Saudi Arabia – the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques located in the city of Mecca. The move was made a day after three senior Jordanian princes were taken into custody charged with clandestine contacts with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman did not set much store by the US Jerusalem declaration preoccupied with the alleged menace coming from Iran and the need to expedite fundamental reforms at home, where the US has a large role to play. Saudi King Salman was reported to press Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to end the campaign against the President Trump’s Jerusalem move and become more responsive to the American proposals on handling the Palestinian issue.

Jordan receives about $1.6 bn a year in aid from America. A $400m grant from the United States is part and parcel of Jordan’s 2018 budget. The kingdom is a privileged partner and enjoys the status of major non-NATO ally (MNNA) granted to several states closely cooperating with the Pentagon while staying outside NATO. Jordan hosts US and British military. It holds regular exercises with American forces. Anti-Assad militant groups go through training on its territory.

In August, Germany moved its aircraft from Turkey to Jordan’s Al-Azraq air base after the Turkish government had refused to allow its lawmakers to visit Incirlik – the base were six German Tornado fighter jets and a tanker were stationed to contribute into the ongoing international anti-terrorist effort.

The United States and Saudi Arabia are close allies joined by a common goal: to counter the Iran’s influence in the region. Last May, US President Donald Trump authorized a nearly $110bn arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth $300bn over a ten-year period.

Both kingdoms are members of US-led anti-IS coalition. Both are concerned over Iran. True, they voted against the United States on Jerusalem at the UN General Assembly but it was understood from the start that these American partners, as well as Egypt, do it only to save their faces and avoid political upheavals at home. After all, the General Assembly has always been a release valve for angry anti-US and anti-Israel sentiments. But it’s not votes on non-binding resolutions that really matter but deeds, including behind-the-certain activities.

Clearly, Washington needs to engage its Arab allies as silent proxies on issues pertaining to the Palestinian- Israeli new peace initiative. The US scheme reportedly involves an independent Palestinian state with Gaza Strip and West Bank without East Jerusalem as capital. It does not envisage the return of Palestinian refugees displaced during Israel-Arab conflicts. Washington is pushing a plan pretty vague about details and is doing it without its Middle East strategy defined.

It says the main goal is fighting the IS but the group is almost defeated and does not play any significant role neither in Syria nor Iraq. It’s hard to imagine how the recognition of Jerusalem-a move opposed even by close Washington’s allies-can contribute into the fight against terror.

Amman is being hard pressed into becoming more pliant or else. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait, did not renew a five-year financial assistance program with Jordan worth $3.6bn that ended in 2017.

Member of Jordanian Parliament Wafa Bani Mustafa told Al-Jazeera that they are trying to strangle Jordan economically until it becomes more malleable.

If Amman refuses to bow, the United States-led Arab alliance needed to oppose Iran will split to weaken the America’s standing in the Middle East. It’ll be a major setback to negatively affect the whole US Middle East policy. So, the US vice president resorted to outright pressure and “warnings” to make Jordan dance to Washington’s tune. Intimidation has become a foreign policy tool normally used by the US to impose its will on other nations, including America’s privileged allies.


By Peter Korzun
Source: Strategic Culture

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