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Viewing cable 10AMMAN459, JORDAN: SCENESETTER FOR VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
10AMMAN459 2010-02-25 14:02 2011-01-31 00:12 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Amman
VZCZCXYZ0003
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHAM #0459/01 0561441
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 251441Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY AMMAN
TO RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC PRIORITY
INFO RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO PRIORITY 0068
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV PRIORITY 2078
RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM PRIORITY 5807
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY 0441
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6975
S E C R E T AMMAN 000459 
 
NOFORN 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR NEA/ELA, NEA/FO 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/25/2020 
TAGS: OVIP EAID PGOV PREL JO
SUBJECT: JORDAN: SCENESETTER FOR VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN 
 
Classified By: Ambassador R. Stephen Beecroft for reasons 1.4 (b) and ( 
d). 
 
1. (S//NF) Summary: Mr. Vice President, Embassy Amman warmly 
welcomes you to Jordan.  As you arrive, Jordan continues to 
face some of the most troubling challenges of King Abdullah's 
10-year reign.  Jordan has been hit hard by the global 
economic slowdown and is heavily aid-dependent.  The 
pared-down 2010 national budget, which still includes a USD 
1.43 billion deficit before grants, has imposed painful cuts 
across the board, including a 20 percent cut in capital 
expenditures.  Jordan's domestic political scene remains 
unsettled, and the government is constitutionally ruling by 
decree following the King's late November 2009 dissolution of 
parliament, a body considered by many Jordanians to have been 
selected through government-manipulated elections.  Samir 
Rifai, the new Prime Minister, is currently overseeing an 
inter-ministerial committee drafting amendments to the 
electoral law and has promised to unveil the amended law in 
May, with elections currently scheduled to take place during 
the last quarter of 2010. 
 
2. (S//NF) Regional tensions also continue to capture the 
attention of the Jordanian leadership.  Amman is particularly 
focused on the perceived stalled peace negotiations between 
the Palestinians and Israelis and Iran's evolving nuclear 
program and growing regional influence, which Jordanian 
officials view as distinct issues.  The solution to both is 
seen as linked by Jordanian interlocutors.  At the same time, 
Jordan has made significant contributions in Afghanistan and 
has worked to improve regional security by encouraging Syria 
to seek a moderate Arab alternative to Iranian influence and 
strengthening ties to Baghdad. End Summary. 
 
Budget Challenges and Impact on USG 
----------------------------------- 
 
3. (C) Your visit comes as Jordan faces a difficult budget 
environment.  The 2010 budget includes USD 6.74 billion in 
projected revenues and USD 7.71 billion in expenditures (83 
percent of which is accounted for by Jordan's bloated civil 
service and military patronage system) and has a USD 1.4 
billion deficit before grants, which is 5.8 percent of 
Jordan's GDP (estimated at USD 24.7 billion for 2010).  The 
2010 budget features 20 percent cuts to capital expenditures 
and 1.4 percent cuts to current expenditures and will impact 
GOJ agencies by curtailing their ability to hire new 
employees and forcing additional cuts in overtime, official 
travel, and purchases of vehicles and furniture.  Existing 
reform and development projects requiring new staff and/or 
construction will also face financial constraints.  Weak 
growth in 2009 will translate to lower income and sales tax 
revenues this year (taxes on 2009 income will be paid in 
2010).  This along with a downward trend for the collection 
of land sale and other fees by the GOJ in 2010 portends an 
even more precarious budget situation during the second half 
of 2010.  This budget environment has already resulted in 
requests from the GOJ for additional USG financial and 
technical assistance. 
 
Assistance MOU 
-------------- 
 
4. (C) On September 22, 2008, Jordan and the U.S. signed a 
memorandum of understanding (MOU) related to development, 
economic, and military assistance. The agreement laid out a 
five-year non-binding annual commitment of economic support 
funds (ESF) USD 360 million) and foreign military funds (FMF) 
USD 300 million). (Note: The FY 2011 OMB budget submission 
includes $360 million in ESF and USD 300 million in FMF for 
Jordan. End note.)  In turn, a side letter spelled out the 
joint intent to expand cooperation in the political and 
economic arenas.  The side letter draws on the 2006 Jordanian 
"National Agenda" reform plan and identifies areas of mutual 
cooperation to be discussed in separate economic and 
political bilateral dialogues.  A bilateral political 
dialogue meeting focused on equality for women under the law, 
media freedom, religious tolerance and freedom, prison 
conditions and inmate treatment, good governance, and a 
strong civil society was held in Amman in January 2010 with 
senior State Department officials.  GOJ officials have 
proposed that the bilateral economic dialogue take place in 
April in Washington. 
 
Political Changes 
----------------- 
 
5. (S//NF) The King constitutionally dissolved the Parliament 
in late November 2009.  The public supported the King's 
decision because parliament was widely perceived to have been 
elected in manipulated elections and was seen as corrupt and 
ineffective.  Cooperation between the then-cabinet and 
parliament had deteriorated to such an extent by late summer 
2009 that only a minimal amount of legislation was offered 
for parliamentary consideration, most of which was stymied 
or, if approved, mangled in the process, according to 
parliamentary observers. 
 
6. (SBU) Following the King's dissolution of the parliament, 
he exercised a constitutional clause which allowed him to 
extend the normal constitutionally required four-month window 
for new elections.  Palace statements indicate that this was 
done to reform the election law, which strongly favors rural, 
East Bank communities over urban communities with large 
Palestinian-origin populations.  The King has established a 
ministerial-level committee, overseen by Prime Minister 
Rifai, to draft electoral law reforms and announced that 
parliamentary elections will be held in the last quarter of 
2010.  However, there have been no meaningful consultations 
with electoral reform advocates to date and few believe that 
the new law will produce any significant changes. 
 
7. (SBU) In early December, the King requested the 
resignation of then-Prime Minister Nader Dahabi and appointed 
to replace him Samir Rifai, who is a former official and 
advisor to the King in the Royal Court, Foreign Minister 
Nasser Judeh's cousin, and the son of former Prime Minister 
and Upper House Speaker Zayd Rifai.  In his designation 
letter to Rifai, the King emphasized, among various reform 
efforts, the need to fight corruption. 
 
8. (SBU) Along with the new Prime Minister, a new 29-member 
cabinet was named and officially sworn in on December 14. 
Local commentators note a lack of new faces in the cabinet, 
with 13 returning ministers and seven who served in previous 
governments.  Analysts believe that the government, as a 
whole, will ultimately turn out to be conservative rather 
than reform-oriented in its decision-making.  In the absence 
of a sitting parliament, the new government has begun to pass 
so-called "temporary laws" or legislation enacted without 
parliamentary approval, which will theoretically be subject 
to parliamentary re-evaluation once new members are elected 
and seated.  Some commentators see this as a way for the 
government to pass legislation which otherwise would not have 
made it through a sitting parliament.  For example, much 
needed tax reform laws, which the previous parliament 
opposed, were recently enacted as well as a law on renewable 
energy. 
 
Middle East Peace 
------------------ 
 
9. (S//NF) During your visit, you will hear from GOJ 
interlocutors their concern on the lack of progress in Middle 
East Peace negotiations.  The King remains a resolute 
advocate of a two-state solution and has responded positively 
to his engagements with SEMEP Mitchell.  Jordanian officials 
consistently express concern that Jordan will be asked to 
assume some form of responsibility for the West Bank, a 
proposition that King Abdullah consistently resists, as does 
an overwhelming percentage of the Jordanian public. 
 
10. (S//NF) King Abdullah has said publicly that the lack of 
progress is the greatest threat to stability in the region 
and hurts U.S. credibility in the region.  King Abdullah 
further asserts that the lack of meaningful progress hurts 
the ability of the United States to advance its interests on 
multiple issues in the region, including on Iran.  Jordan 
considers settlement activities, home demolitions, and 
evictions in Jerusalem to be particularly destabilizing and 
unhelpful in restarting negotiations.  The King also has a 
keen interest in preserving Jordan's role in administering 
the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem and in 
overseeing other Islamic and Christian holy sites in 
Jerusalem. 
 
11. (S//NF) Recently, the King has adopted a new approach, 
pressing PM Netanyahu and President Abbas to initiate 
immediate proximity talks as a means to work towards direct 
negotiations.  Positive progress at the negotiating table, 
however meager, could provide crucial political cover for 
President Abbas, affording him a measure of maneuverability. 
Given his public backing of U.S. efforts, the King also views 
the lack of progress as damaging to his own credibility and 
limiting his ability to play a constructive role in the 
future. 
 
Iran 
---- 
 
12. (S//NF) Jordan is concerned about Iranian influence in 
the region, particularly the potentially destabilizing effect 
of an Iranian nuclear program, support for Hizballah and 
Hamas, support for the Huthi and other armed groups in Yemen, 
and Iran's role in Iraq and links with Syria.  The King 
believes that the recent post-election violence in Iran 
exposes deep fissures in the Iranian polity that "makes the 
Supreme Leader look a bit less supreme," forcing Iran's 
leadership to turn inward on domestic issues and limiting 
their freedom and resources to act internationally. 
Especially with the recent buildup of U.S. military assets in 
the Persian Gulf, GOJ contacts fear that Iran will try to 
counter these perceptions with a dramatic act. 
 
13. (S//NF) Jordan's senior leadership draws a direct link 
between the willingness of Arab states to counter Iran, and 
progress on Middle East peace, saying that Israeli and 
Sunni-Arab interests are perfectly aligned with respect to 
Iran.  Jordan will quietly support new UNSC sanctions against 
Iran, but will be loath to enforce those sanctions in the 
absence of progress in the Middle East peace negotiations. 
Without a material improvement in the negotiations, any 
confrontation with Iran risks backlash from regional publics 
and Palestinian groups who cast Tehran as their protector. 
Realization of the two-state solution would consolidate the 
regional consensus against Iran, Jordan believes. 
 
Afghanistan 
----------- 
 
14. (C) Jordan makes significant contributions to U.S. 
regional security priorities.  In July 2009, Jordan deployed 
a 712-soldier Ranger Battalion to Afghanistan to provide 
election security.  The Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) has 
deployed two battalions in rotation in support of OEF as of 
January 2010, despite the cost (pay entitlements) and risk to 
their soldiers' safety.  JAF leaders have intimated that they 
would advocate even larger-scale deployments (a brigade), if 
the pay/entitlement expense were not so burdensome.  In fact, 
during the Joint Military Commission in November 2009, MG 
Mash'al Al Zaben, Chief of Staff for Strategy, stated that 
Jordan would stay in Afghanistan until the last U.S. soldier 
came home. 
 
15. (S/NF) Following the December 30 suicide bombing by a 
Jordanian national in Khost, Afghanistan, Jordan has 
experienced increased calls by opposition groups and 
non-governmental figures to explain its Afghanistan 
assistance and end its security cooperation with the United 
States.  So far, such calls and commentary in the press have 
received no traction with the government, which has 
vigorously and publicly defended its efforts to combat 
terrorism.  Jordanian government officials have privately 
reiterated a commitment to maintaining their relationship 
with us, highlighting their deployments in Afghanistan and 
elsewhere. 
 
Syria 
----- 
 
16. (S/NF) Jordan increased its engagement with Syria in the 
last half of 2009, attempting to draw Damascus toward an 
alignment with moderate Arab states and away from Iranian 
influence.  The King and Syrian President Bashar Al Assad met 
at least four times in 2009, which resulted in agreements on 
a number of initiatives, including border demarcation, 
customs procedures, and commercial transport. Despite recent 
agreements, Jordanian officials continue to be skeptical of 
Syrian intentions to follow through. 
 
Iraq 
-------------- 
 
17. (C) Jordan has been a leader in engaging with Iraq, 
reaching out to promote bilateral trade and encouraging Iraq 
to build stronger ties with Arab states rather than with 
Iran.  The King became the first Arab Head of State to visit 
Baghdad, in July 2008, subsequently named an Ambassador to 
Iraq, and has promised to name a Defense Attach.  The King 
supports Prime Minister Maliki and sees progress as slow, but 
moving in the right direction. Senior Jordanian leaders have 
become concerned that increasing tensions between the central 
government and the Kurdistan Region will erupt in violent 
conflict and are skeptical that Iraq can maintain stability 
as U.S. forces withdraw. 
 
18. (SBU) Jordan hosts numerous Iraqi "guests" who have fled 
the conflict and its after-effects and has provided them with 
access to some social services.  The GOJ does not formally 
classify the Iraqis as refugees, because of concerns that a 
new permanent refugee populace in Jordan, in addition to the 
already sizable Palestinian refugee population, would further 
erode the demographic position of East Bankers.  The GOJ 
emphasizes that hosting the Iraqis has been a burden on the 
budget, and Jordan has received significant amounts of 
international aid to ease their already tight fiscal 
situation.  Jordanian officials have previously placed the 
number of Iraqi refugees between 450,000 and 500,000, but 
have now backed away from specific numbers of late in the 
face of estimates from most international organizations and 
NGOs that are significantly lower, perhaps in the 100,000 to 
200,000 range.  The real numbers are uncertain in the absence 
of a needs assessment study on Iraqis in Jordan, which the 
U.S. and others have been urging. Displaced Iraqis in Jordan 
are integrated and live within Jordanian communities, not in 
refugee camps. 
Beecroft