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Cablegate: Jordan: Scenesetter for Vice President Biden

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

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