House committee advances Jordan MOU amidst rare Congressional critique of Amman

WASHINGTON – On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed legislation that would re-authorize a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to strengthen U.S. defense ties with Jordan. While Amman generally enjoys bipartisan support due to its 1994 peace treaty with Israel and the country’s fight against ISIS, multiple members of Congress issued critiques of the Hashemite Kingdom for its treatment of approximately 50,000 Syrian refugees trapped on the country’s border where they have been denied proper food for five months.

“I want to bring up the issue of the Rukban refugee camp at the Jordanian-Syrian border where 50,000 people are stranded, mostly women and children without food, water, or medical assistance,” Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) said. “International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations have called for the immediate and unhindered resumption of humanitarian assistance to these vulnerable Syrians.” The Rhode Island lawmaker added that members of Congress raised this issue with King Abdullah personally when the monarch visited Washington earlier this month. In an unusual development, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (R-CA) offered an amendment that specifically called on the Jordanian government to assist the besieged refugees in Rukban amidst the larger military cooperation.

At the same time, other lawmakers praised Amman’s stabilizing role in the region. Jordan is one of the largest recipients worldwide of US assistance and received $1.6 billion in aid last year. “On the front lines in the fight against terror and other regional crises, Jordan is one of our closest and most important partners in the Middle East,” noted Subcommittee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) who introduced H.R. 2646. “A key contributor to the anti-ISIS coalition, Jordan has also taken in over one million refugees from Syria and other neighboring countries, putting a significant strain on the kingdom’s economy, public services, infrastructure, and social cohesion.”

Experts have stressed the benefits Israel receives from maintaining a strong US aid package to Jordan’s military in the face of the numerous threats the Hashemite Kingdom faces. “Israel has a long border with Jordan. No one can remember the last time a terrorist crossed that border from Jordan into Israel and committed an act of violence,” Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations told Jewish Insider. “That is because there is excellent anti-terror cooperation between Jordan and Israel and that’s an important aspect of Israel’s security. Anyone who speaks to Israeli security officials would hear that Jordanian security is important for Israel’s security.”

One issue not mentioned during the session was the recent diplomatic conflict between Israel and Jordan. In July, an Israeli Embassy guard in Amman killed two Jordanians after being attacked with a screwdriver. For six months, King Abdullah has denied Israel’s request to reopen the Jewish state’s Embassy in Amman creating one of the longest crises between the two neighboring nations. In recent days, Jordan harshly rebuked the United States and Israel after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

King Abdullah is a regular lobbying figure on Capitol Hill traveling to Washington multiple times each year and meeting with key House and Senate Committees. Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Bob Corker (R-TN) even compared the Hashemite monarch to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for his respected foreign policy worldview in a February interview with Politico.

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