US moves to protect key ally

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The Independent Online
THOUGH THE United States had known King Hussein's days were numbered, it responded to his death with grief and some concern. Jordan has been a key player in the US-sponsored Middle East peace process; it has been a key regional ally, and any instability will endanger Israel, America's firmest ally in the Middle East.

When President Bill Clinton brought King Hussein to the Wye Plantation in Maryland for peace talks last year there was admiration for him and a belief he could apply moral pressure.

Yesterday, Mr Clinton was to meet King Abdullah, his successor, in an attempt to maintain continuity and strike a similar relationship.

But there was no doubt in Washington that, whatever his strengths, the new king would not be able to play the same role as his father in the talks.

King Hussein's personal commitment, his history of engagement on both sides of the conflict and his personal relationships with some of the key figures on the Israeli and Palestinian sides will not be matched.

At the weekend, the White House issued an unusual statement saying "the United States stands by Jordan and is determined to do all that it can to support and strengthen it." It promised to speed up aid to Amman, and asked Congress to release part of a $300m (pounds 187m) package early.

But the White House words also contained an implicit offer of military support. Jordan is surrounded by potentially hostile neighbours - Israel, Syria and Iraq.

Sandy Berger, the President's National Security Adviser, has also made comments designed to head off any regional threat, saying that any attempt to interfere in Jordan would be a "grave mistake". However, when Jordan was threatened in 1970 by Syrian tanks, the US suggested using Israeli aircraft rather than its own to deter them.