WASHINGTON—President Joe Biden praised King Abdullah II of Jordan as a stalwart ally in a “tough neighborhood” as the two leaders huddled at the White House on Monday, a meeting that came at a pivotal moment for both leaders in the Middle East.
Last week a Jordanian state security court sentenced two former officials to 15 years in prison over an alleged plot against the king uncovered earlier this year that involved Abdullah’s half-brother.
Meanwhile, Biden, who has put much of his foreign policy focus on China and Russia in the early going, faces some difficult issues in the Middle East. He is dealing with stepped-up attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed militias at the same moment that his administration is trying to nudge Iran back to the negotiating table to revive the nuclear agreement that former President Donald Trump abandoned during his presidency.
“You have always been there, and we will always be there for Jordan,” Biden said during an Oval Office appearance with Abdullah and his son, the Crown Prince Hussein.
Biden noted that he first met Abdullah when he was a U.S. senator and Abdullah was the crown prince.
“You can always count on me, my country, and many of our colleagues in the region,” Abdullah said.
Biden has no plans to reverse U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. His administration has praised the Trump-brokered accords—deals with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Morocco that normalized relations with Israel—a rare instance of the Biden administration speaking positively of the former administration.
The two leaders discussed the situation in Syria—more than 1 million Syrian refugees have fled the war-ravaged nation for Jordan—and a wobbly security situation in Iraq, an administration official said. At least eight drone attacks have targeted the U.S. military presence in Iraq since Biden took office in January, as well as 17 rocket attacks.
Abdullah is the first Arab world leader to meet face-to-face with Biden. The president is set to host Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at the White House next week, and Biden has invited Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, to visit later this summer.
Abdullah is set to have a working breakfast Tuesday with Vice President Kamala Harris and to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The meeting with Biden was also a chance for the king to spotlight his closeness to Biden following the attempted coup.
Bassem Awadallah, who has U.S. citizenship and once served as a top aide to King Abdullah II, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, were found guilty of sedition and incitement charges. Both men denied the charges and Awadallah’s U.S. lawyer said his client alleged he was tortured in Jordanian detention and fears for his life.
They are alleged to have conspired with Prince Hamzah, the king’s half-brother. Biden, who has known Abdullah for years, was quick to publicly express “strong U.S. support for Jordan” and praise the king’s leadership after details of the coup attempt were unveiled in April.
It’s unclear if Biden raised the United States’ long-standing call to extradite Ahlam Ahmad al-Tamimi, a Palestinian woman living in Jordan who is wanted by the United States on a charge of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against American nationals.
The Trump administration last year indicated it was considering withholding aid to Jordan in a bid to secure al-Tamimi’s extradition. She was convicted in Israel of a 2001 bombing of a Tel Aviv restaurant that killed 15 people, including two American citizens. She has lived freely in Jordan since she was released in a Hamas-Israel prisoner swap in 2011.
Biden administration officials have previously made clear to Jordan that the extradition of al-Tamimi, who is on the FBI’s most wanted list, is of “high-interest” to the United States, according to the administration official.