Cablegate: Goj Leaders Talk Aid, Reform, Palestinians, Levant


DE RUEHAM #3189/01 3300731
P 250731Z NOV 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L AMMAN 003189



E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/25/2018

REF: A. AMMAN 3167
B. AMMAN 3122

Classified By: Ambassador R. Stephen Beecroft for reasons 1.4 (b) and (

1. (C) Summary: NEA Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
David Hale, who was in Amman to participate in the
U.S.-Jordan Political Dialogue (Ref A), spent November 18 in
separate meetings with King Abdullah, Royal Court Chief
Nasser Al-Lozi, Foreign Minister Salah Al-Bashir, Senate
President Zeid Al-Rifai, and Minister of Planning and
International Cooperation Suhair Al-Ali. Hale urged his
interlocutors to develop a needs assessment for Iraqi
refugees in preparation to justify continued U.S. aid on that
issue. He said the present Administration will be handing
its successor an intact Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
End Summary.

U.S. Aid to Jordan; Fallout from Global Economic Crisis
--------------------------------------------- ----------
2. (C) Bashir and Ali asked whether the global economic and
financial crisis, coupled with transition to a new U.S.
Administration, would lead to a decrease in aid to Jordan.
Bashir noted that the recent G-20 meeting had affirmed the
importance of maintaining aid levels. Ali said the GOJ is
"confident our partners will continue to step up to the
plate, but the media is skeptical." Hale told both that
Jordan in general remains in good standing but that it should
keep a couple of issues in mind as it seeks to maintain
strong support among American lawmakers: first, Washington
wants to see more data showing that U.S. assistance for Iraqi
issues has been well spent, and second, that Jordan continues
to improve its human rights record. The King has been saying
the right things on human rights but concrete steps have not
always followed, for example in the areas of trafficking in

3. (C) Hale urged the GOJ to make it easier for Iraqis in
Jordan to earn their own income. While expressing
understanding for Jordan's experience with Palestinian
refugees and attendant wariness of absorbing many more
refugees, he questioned why it should be so difficult to make
sure Iraqis had a right to work. He suggested that offering
Iraqis a protected status might make them more comfortable
registering their children in school and using the health
care system.

4. (C) Hale encouraged Jordan to develop a strategy to
protect economic gains through the current global crisis, to
define Jordan's goals and expectations for the next 2-5
years, and to explain how Jordan is coping with economic
developments. Ali said that no formal study has been
completed, but Jordan expected to take a hit on remittances
from Jordanians abroad and foreign direct investment, and
imports would likely drop. The Minister expressed strong
interest in holding an economic dialogue with the U.S.,
similar to the November 17 political session, as soon as
possible and before the end of the year. She predicted
Jordan would be better able to quantify the projected impact
of the economic crisis at the first session of the economic
dialogue and asked what else the U.S. might be interested in
hearing about. Ali estimated that Jordan's real growth would
decline from about 6 percent to 4-4.5 percent in the first
half of 2009, chronic unemployment challenges would continue,
and there would be noteworthy decline in tax revenue. She
assessed that improved relations with Qatar (Ref B) would
mean Jordanian workers would be more likely to remain there,
adding that Jordanians were facing layoffs throughout the
other Gulf States where they tended to occupy middle and
upper management positions.

5. (C) Ali urged the USAID mission to be more flexible,
saying she senses micromanagement out of Washington. People
on the ground know best, she argued, adding that Jordanians
working on the ground know what the priorities are. Having
specific sectoral allocations mandated from Washington were
in neither the U.S. nor Jordan's interest.

Governance and Reform
6. (C) Upper House President Rifai noted that MPs elected in
November 2007 are more qualified than the last batch, but
that the continued absence of real, organized political
parties means candidates run and lose as independents and
often are not around long enough to develop parliamentary
professionalism. He saw PM Nader Dahabi doing a good job and
cited greater harmony between the Palace and the Government.
He praised the selection of Nasser Lozi to head the Royal
Court given his capacity to maintain good relations with
everyone and his non-confrontational nature.

7. (C) Speaking of the controversial Law on Associations,
Rifai anticipated some minor adjustments, but overall he was
dismissive of demands from the NGO sector in Jordan for
greater freedom for associations. "I see no reason for it,"
he said of further amendments, arguing that Jordanian NGOs
need to understand that "democracy without controls becomes
chaos. It doesn't mean that every person does what he wants
to do." "Pressure groups," he continued, are complaining
about problems that are not real. If a journalist breaks a
law, he must be tried, Rifai argued, noting that "people want
journalists to have total immunity - that's not the way it
works." That said, he allowed that a reporter should not be
put on trial just "because he has expressed an opinion."

Syria, Lebanon, Iran
8. (C) Rifai observed that even as things seemed to be
settling down in Lebanon, in reality nothing fundamental had
changed: Hizballah held the winning cards, and Syria was not
giving up on its efforts to influence the course of politics.
His main concern was the coming election where Hizballah
would likely boost its strength. Some of this might come
from increased power of Christian groups allied with the Shia
party, particularly as Michel Aoun was gaining strong support
among a divided Maronite community. Foreign Minister Bashir
described the spring elections in Lebanon as "when we will
know who won last May," referring to the outcome of the Doha

9. (C) On Syria, Rifai said Bashar Al-Asad's regime was
behaving more tactically than strategically, mainly because
the Syrians "think they are winning." Bashar was just
waiting for the end of the Bush Administration. Former
Syrian VP (and leader of the expatriate opposition National
Salvation Front) Abdel Halim Khaddam had told Rifai that the
only thing that Bashar had inherited from his father, Hafez,
was the acceptance that political assassination was an
appropriate way to rid oneself of rivals. (Note: Rifai
speculated that Hizballah operations chief Imad Mughniyah and
Syrian Presidential security aide Brigadier General Muhammad
Sulayman had been targeted by the regime in an effort to
dispatch anyone with links to former Lebanese President Rafiq
Al-Hariri's death. "If the court convenes, there won't be
anyone left to testify," he concluded. End Note.)

10. (C) Rifai said he thought dialogue with Iran was good,
but ultimately fruitless, arguing that if the U.S., the EU,
and the Arab states agree that under no circumstances should
Iran be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, military force
was the only option. "Bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian
bomb. Sanctions, carrots, incentives won't matter," he
offered. And while Rifai judged a military strike would have
"catastrophic impact on the region," he nonetheless thought
preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons would pay
enough dividends to make it worth the risks.

Peace Process, Palestinian Politics
11. (C) FM Bashir said that the November 26 Arab Foreign
Ministers meet in Cairo would focus beyond the subject of
Palestinian reconciliation and would express a consensus view
that no Palestinian elections should be held unless they are
simultaneously for President and the Legislature. The Arabs
intend to use their meeting to back Mahmoud Abbas. Bashir
added that he has discussed with at least two of his peers,
Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Moroccan FM
El-Tayeb Fassi-Fihri, the possibility of the three of them
visiting Abbas in Ramallah as a further show of support after
the November 26 meeting. (Note: Bashir said he might also
meet Israeli Kadima Party leader and Foreign Minister Tzipi
Livni at that time. He said she had told him that she would
be cautious during the election campaign about saying "good
things" about the peace process. Bashir was concerned that
she would be unable to form a government, even if her party
won the most seats. End Note.) On Mughrabi Gate, Bashir
said he had escalated the matter recently by raising Jordan's
concerns directly with Livni. He said Jordan is not becoming
radicalized, but urged Israel not to "push us" and said what
Israel was doing to Jordan was "not right."

12. (C) Rifai describe Abbas as "very down and frustrated"
and continuing to hint that if things continued as they were,
he would quit. Abbas described himself as a failure because
he could not stop settlements, the separation wall, extension
of Israeli control over the territory. Neither had he
secured a significant release of Palestinian prisoners from
Israeli custody. Rifai speculated that Israel would prefer
that Hamas take over the West Bank, obviating the need to
deal meaningfully with a moderate leadership. He called for
greater pressure on Israel to give Abbas something to show
his people. It is no longer enough to just have a peace
process. There must be tangible results on the ground. DAS
Hale, pointed out that the Palestinian forces trained in
Jordan had impressed the Israeli security establishment and
that Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad was more upbeat on economic
conditions than previously.

13. (C) Regarding Abbas's control of Fatah, Rifai cited an
urgent need to reorganize the party's leadership. If there
is to be a gathering of the Fatah Sixth Party Congress, it
must be held in the West Bank, allowing Abbas to better
control the proceedings, Rifai asserted. Holding the
conference "inside" - rather than in Amman or Cairo, for
instance - would keep attendance at more manageable levels
and keep out disruptive elements like Tunis-based PLO
"Foreign Minister" and Fatah Central Committee bigwig Farouq

14. (C) King Abdullah, who had just ended a meeting with
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, reiterated his readiness
to support efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace as
well as help the Lebanese Armed Forces and moderate,
anti-Syrian elements in Lebanon.

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