Obama assures Jordan king of US support


Washington/Amman : In the face of protests rocking the Middle East, the Barack Obama administration has assured Jordan’s King Abdullah II of its continued support but made it clear that Washington wants Amman to move toward reforms.

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Abdullah has been among the leaders alarmed by the popular uprising that toppled Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s President Zine el Abidine ben Ali. He has been expressing his anxiety to Washington over the steadiness of US support for its friends in the region, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Seeking to ease those fears, Obama called the king over the weekend and has dispatched a procession of top officials to Jordan to reassure him of Washington’s support.

Jordan’s royal family is facing popular demands for more open government while also coming under pressure from the nation’s tribal leaders, traditional supporters of the government. At the same time, the Obama administration is pressing for changes that could discomfit the king and his aides.

The demonstrations, inspired by the unrest in the region, reflect growing discontent fuelled by the most serious domestic economic crisis in years and accusations of rampant government corruption.

“You can’t maintain power through coercion…. At some level, in any society, there has to be consent,” Obama said at a Tuesday news conference in Washington, and added that people armed with nothing more than “a smart phone and Twitter account can mobilize hundreds of thousands”.

Obama made the weekend call to Abdullah to assure him of US support, but also to say that Washington wants Amman to move toward reforms. Obama said “democracy will bring more — not less — stability in the region”.

Jordan this week gave in to another demand of the protesters. Now marches will no longer need government permission, local media reports said.

The most alarming element of the political pressure, from the monarchy’s viewpoint, has been an attack by some tribal leaders on Queen Rania, breaching long-time prohibition against criticism of the royal family.

Last week, 36 leaders of Jordan’s tribes, traditionally key supporters of the government, posted a letter on a Jordanian website demanding basic freedoms, condemning corruption and complaining about Jordan’s huge debt. The kingdom’s economy, largely based on tourism and chemical fertilizers, has taken a battering from the global recession.