Jordan’s King Abdullah and Queen Rania began a three-week visit to the United States on Thursday in a bid to shore up support for the kingdom’s struggling economy.
Among Abdullah’s meetings with congressional leaders and senior officials is a sit-down with President Joe Biden. The meeting, which will reportedly take place sometime after mid-July, marks the first by an Arab leader with Biden at the White House since the president took office in January. Also on the monarch’s agenda is an audience with investors.
Washington and Amman have enjoyed a historically strong partnership as Jordan is a key strategic ally in the region. Abdullah was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Biden after his presidential election victory in November. And Jordan ranks among the top recipients of US foreign aid, according to US diplomats to Reuters.
Abdullah is expected to lobby senior officials for an extension of a five-year, $6.4 billion aid package that ends next year. Washington is the kingdom’s single largest source of bilateral assistance at more than $1.5 billion each year.
Increased aid to the kingdom couldn’t come at a more crucial time. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment rates hovered around 15%. Once the pandemic hit, that number leaped to an all-time high of 25% in the first quarter of 2021. The Jordanian economy also contracted for the first time in 30 years. Officials estimate the economy shrank by 1.6%.
To help Jordan through the pandemic, the International Monetary Fund on Thursday released $206 million to the country under a four-year, $1.3 billion loan program.
Aside from foreign aid discussions, a focus of the meeting could be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A majority of Jordan’s 10 million population are of Palestinian descent and Abdullah’s Hashemite family are custodians of the holy sites in Jerusalem. Abdullah was a strong critic of former US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan that some analysts criticized for leaning heavily in favor of Israel.
Abdullah has supported the Biden administration’s more vocal shift toward supporting Palestine. In November shortly after being elected, Biden told Abdullah that he hopes to cooperate on “supporting a two-state solution.”