Related topics

King Hussein Seeks Closer Ties With Main Arab Rival

November 11, 1985

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ King Hussein’s warning to Syrian dissidents in Jordan is a ″rather sensational″ effort to improve relations with Damascus and could help soften Syrian opposition to his efforts for peace with Israel, diplomats here said Monday.

″I think it’s a clear indication the king is very serious about working to improve relations with Syria,″ said one Western diplomat.

″I find it rather sensational,″ said a second, who suggested Hussein’s move was the price he paid for an expression of willingness by Syria to attend a Middle East peace conference.

The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity.

In Syria, government-controlled newspapers and radio stations gave Hussein’s declaration banner treatment Monday.

″We received the announcement with relief,″ said an unnamed but authoritative Syrian source, whose statement was reported by the official Syrian Arab News Agency.

Syrian participation would widen the Arab front in seeking peace with Israel, if it did not cost Hussein his alliances with the Palestine Liberation Organization and Egypt.

Syria and Jordan have been bitter rivals. Syria has given little sign it will drop its opposition to Hussein’s accord with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat to seek peace with Israel or his call for a confederation between Jordan and a Palestinian state.

In an open letter Sunday to his prime minister, Zaid Rifai, Hussein said rebels linked with violence in Syria had been sheltered in Jordan by people ″diguised in the clothes of our religion.″ The king vowed this would not be permitted in the future.

Hussein said he had been deceived in the past, when he denied Syrian allegations that Moslem fundamentalists based in Jordan were carrying out attacks across the border.

A second major sign of warming relations is Rifai’s planned visit to Syria, the first by a Jordanian prime minister in six years.

A government source, who stipulated anonymity, said Rifai would go to Syria Tuesday with Royal Court Chief Marwan Qasem, Foreign Minister Taher el-Masri, Finance Minister Hanna Odeh and other officials, an unusually high-level group.

Hussein said last week he hoped a summit with President Hafez Assad of Syria would follow.

At an Oct. 21 meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Rifai and Syria’s prime minister, Abdul Rauf al-Kasm, agreed to reject ″partial or unilateral″ peace settlements with Israel and endorsed a United Nations-sponsored international peace conference of the sort Hussein has been seeking.

Before, Syria’s policy was no negotiations before it achieved military parity with Israel.

The two prime ministers also reasserted support for a 1982 pan-Arab peace plan which implies Israel’s right to exist.

Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres has said the Riyadh agreement could be ″a real turning point in Jordanian politics.″

A senior Peres aide, stipulating anoymity, said it was better to have Syria in a peace process than trying to undermine it from outside. Other Israeli officials, however, saw any trend toward Arab unity as a potential threat to Israel.

One diplomat in Amman said Jordan appeared to have allayed Syrian fears that Hussein and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat would leave Syria out of any peace settlement.

Hussein has insisted that the PLO and Syria should be part of any peace talks with Israel, arguing there could be no peace unless all Arab-Israeli disputes were settled.

Syria demands return of the Golan Heights, lost to Israel in the 1967 Arab- Isreli war. Israel annexed the Golan, a mountain plateau on its northeast frontier, in 1981. America, Israel’s main backer, says the Golan should be discussed in peace negotiations.

Syria also demanded Arafat’s removal as PLO chairman and supports PLO groups who oppose the peace effort and who drove Arafat loyalists from Lebanon in 1983.

Despite all this, Arafat has expressed support for Jordanian-Syrian-PLO reconciliation.

Hussein’s letter blamed Syrian dissidents for poor Jordanian-Syrian relations and did not mention other divisive issues - the PLO, the Iran-Iraq war and purported Syrian-backed attacks on Jordanians abroad.

Syrian-Jordanian relations, close in the mid-1970s, were shaken in 1978 by differing reactions to Egyptian-Israeli peace moves. In 1980, Syria massed as many as 25,000 troops along its border with Jordan during an Arab summit meeting in Amman.

Since 1980, Jordanian and Palestinian officials have accused Syria of sponsoring attacks on Jordanian diplomats, airline offices and embassies abroad.

U.S. officials have cited the threat from Syria as one reason for selling Jordan $1.9 billion worth of sophisticated weapons.

Meanwhile, Arafat flew to Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, from Cairo on Monday, a PLO official said. He said Arafat will preside over meetings of the PLO Executive Committee and of his mainstream Fatah faction.