YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Jordan's Leader Urges a Quick End to the War

March 24, 2003|Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writer

AMMAN, Jordan — Suggesting that he sympathized with his overwhelmingly antiwar countrymen, King Abdullah II called Sunday for a quick end to the war against Iraq.

"We felt pain and distress watching those scenes on TV showing the suffering of the brotherly Iraqi people," said Abdullah, a low-profile friend of the U.S., whose government has been increasingly nervous about the growing popular protests against the war on Jordan's eastern border.

"It is only natural for Jordanians to feel anger at what their brothers in Iraq are going through," Abdullah said, according to the government news service, after discussions with his cabinet.

"All of us are angry and distressed about that," he said, adding that the nation "must look for any solution to stop the war."

Jordan's move comes just one day after Saudi Arabia's foreign minister called for a cease-fire in the war and resumption of diplomacy. The United States has not responded to the Saudi request.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher announced late Sunday that he would skip the Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo this week so that he could work on a new peace initiative to stop the war in Iraq but gave no details of what approach the country might take.

However, at almost the same time, Jordanian government officials announced that Jordan was expelling three Iraqi diplomats, making it the first Arab country to do so. Jordan was one of dozens of countries asked by Washington recently to expel Iraqi diplomats engaged in what the United States called espionage.

Prime Minister Ali abu Ragheb denied the expulsions were to win favor with Washington or to satisfy an American demand. He said the Iraqi diplomats had violated a bilateral security agreement, saying they were engaged in activities "outside their diplomatic tasks."

Jordan's position is far more complicated than Abdullah's public expressions of sympathy for the Iraqi people suggest. While Abdullah publicly condemns the war, the country has quietly agreed to allow U.S. Special Forces and allow overflights.

Jordan's government leaders know that the country's economic future lies in business with the United States, which has already pulled equal with Iraq, long Jordan's lead trading partner. But popular allegiances are with fellow Muslims in Iraq. The country chose not to side with the U.S. in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

For months, the country's statements and actions have been contradictory -- testimony to the difficult balance it is trying to strike.

Although Jordan is allowing 2,000 to 3,000 undercover U.S. operatives and troops, according to Jordanian sources, officials adamantly deny their presence. Abdullah and cabinet members speak against the war and allow photographs that confirm the worst of the war's consequences to be aired in the government-influenced media.

On Sunday, for instance, a newspaper, partially owned by the government, published a disturbing photograph from the Arab network, Al Jazeera, of a child, described as an Iraqi boy, lying on the ground, streaked with blood and half his head sliced off. The headline read: "Tens of Martyrs and Hundreds of Injured or Wounded in Baghdad and Basra."

Western diplomats expressed irritation that a major daily that is heavily influenced by the government would publish a photograph that Westerners expect will inflame public opinion.

Arab political analysts, however, believe that the West is underestimating the hatred being unleashed by the war.

"Such scenes as Baghdad being bombed, of Western television media counting the number of rockets, we know that these photos will be engraved in the minds of Arabs and Muslims," said Taher Masri, a former prime minister. "This is Baghdad, the capital of the Arab and Islamic world for 1,000 years, this is not easy for us."

Los Angeles Times Articles