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King Abdullah of Jordan Meets With Biden at White House

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Jordan’s king seeks to strengthen ties with the U.S. after a Trump-era thaw in relations.

King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Biden met in the Oval Office on Monday.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

July 19, 2021, 2:28 p.m. ET

President Biden on Monday met with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House, a critical visit for a foreign leader seeking to demonstrate that his country is back in favor with the United States after four years of a deeply troubled relationship with former President Donald J. Trump.

During his 22 years in power, King Abdullah has been seen by American presidents as a moderate, reliable ally in the Middle East, often playing the role of envoy from the Arab world in Washington.

That special relationship ended with Mr. Trump, who favored working with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States instead.

“Trump’s departure is a huge relief to him,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and a former special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. “Jared Kushner developed a bromance with M.B.S., and Jordan was essentially left out in the cold,” he added about Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

King Abdullah, for instance, was not consulted on the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan, which in its original version provided for annexation of the Jordan Valley. And King Abdullah was also worried that American aid to Jordan was in jeopardy during the Trump era.

The United States has been the largest provider of assistance to Jordan since 1994, when Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel, according to Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, director of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict program at the United States Institute of Peace.

“As much as this administration has tried not to get consumed by the Middle East, it is very much focused on preserving stability there,” Ms. Kurtzer-Ellenbogen said. “It sees Jordan’s role as key in that and one that was eclipsed in the last few years.”

The king and Mr. Biden, in contrast to the previous president, have a long friendship. King Abdullah is the first Arab head of state to visit the White House since Mr. Biden took office, a sign that the United States wants to elevate Jordan once again to its traditional role as a regional peacemaker.

“We’ve been hanging out together for a long time,” Mr. Biden said Monday afternoon, as the two sat in the Oval Office together ahead of their bilateral meeting. King Abdullah, who was accompanied by his eldest son, Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah II, noted that he “had the privilege of knowing you with my father decades ago.”

King Abdullah’s wife, Queen Rania, did not attend the meeting on Monday, but was expected to have tea with the first lady, Jill Biden.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said in a statement that the meeting will provide an opportunity to “showcase Jordan’s leadership role in promoting peace and stability in the region.”

Mr. Biden has also indicated that he plans to take a tougher stance on Saudi Arabia.

Ahead of his visit to the White House, King Abdullah participated in a secret meeting earlier this month with the new Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, the first summit between the countries’ leaders in three years, according to regional media reports. The Jordanian leader’s relationship with Mr. Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, had been deeply damaged.

The visit comes as Jordan has been struggling amid coronavirus restrictions and as King Abdullah has had to fend off an alleged plot — involving his own half brother — to overthrow him.

For Mr. Biden, whose foreign policy priorities are heavily focused on China, King Abdullah is the kind of regional actor he needs to cultivate to help protect American interests in the Middle East. King Abdullah is “putting up his hand for that role,” Mr. Indyk said.

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