Home / World News / Mideast linchpin Jordan seeks expansion of 14-year Colorado partnership – The Denver Post

Mideast linchpin Jordan seeks expansion of 14-year Colorado partnership – The Denver Post

Lt. General Prince Feisal bin Al-Hussein of Jordan answers questions from members of the media during a news conference at the Governor's Mansion, in Denver, Thursday Sept. 11, 2014.

Brennan Linsley, The Associated Press

Lt. General Prince Feisal bin Al-Hussein of Jordan answers questions from members of the media during a news conference at the Governor’s Mansion, in Denver, Thursday Sept. 11, 2014.

Jordan’s rising role as a U.S.-backed pillar in the precarious Middle East, receiving newly re-upped aid of $1.275 billion a year, builds on a unique 14-year partnership with Colorado pilots that officials last week said they want to expand.

The Department of Defense has paired Colorado’s National Guard with Jordan for military support flying F-16 fighter jets and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters since 2004.  A Colorado liaison is posted in Jordan’s capital, Amman. A Colorado pilot is embedded in the Royal Jordanian Air Force. Jordan’s leaders visit Denver.

Prince Feisal bin Al-Hussein said Jordan wants to expand this military partnership to help deal with water scarcity, develop solar and wind energy, and defuse violent extremists.

“We recognize that Colorado is a leader in entrepreneurship,” Al-Hussein said in a 30-minute interview with The Denver Post before a talk at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts hosted by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The younger brother of Jordan’s King Abdullah, Al-Hussein, 54, is a retired pilot who chairs Jordan’s National Policy Council and runs the country as regent when Abdullah is away.

“Not everything in the United States starts and finishes in Washington, D.C., and New York,” he said.

Jordan ranks among the world’s most water-challenged nations and is counting on massive desalination of ocean water, “one of the few mechanisms that will seriously address our water shortage issues.” And because Jordan must import 98 percent of the oil residents use, leaders favor cheaper wind and solar energy to increase security.

Hickenlooper last week issued a statement calling the Colorado-Jordan partnership “more important than ever.”

But Jordan’s position is complicated by international bank demands that rulers fix economic problems, intensified by 1.4 million Syrian refugees, by imposing painful and potentially disruptive spending cuts. Taxes must go up. Bread subsides may go down, a hard hit for residents whose average annual income hovers around $4,087. Jordanian intelligence agents have been battling militants after terrorist attacks they attribute to Islamic State sympathizers driven from Syria and Iraq.

“Economic reform and austerity is never a popular thing to do,” Al-Hussein said. The U.S. aid deal, finalized in February to give $6.375 billion over five years, seeks stability. “The United States has … really stood by us in this troubled time,” he said.

Jordan, population 9.5 million, emerged as a key U.S. ally because it sits between Iraq and Syria, north of Saudi Arabia and south of Turkey and Syria. Special Forces operatives use it as a base in countering Islamic State and al Qaeda forces. Strategists also regard Jordan as a bulwark against Iran, which has been active in the region, sending militia units to points within 3 miles of Israel. Predominantly Sunni nations are worried about an Iran-backed  “crescent” of influence through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Somalia. And Russia remains active in war-ravaged Syria, where reconstruction cost estimates top $300 billion.

A promised U.S. peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains secret. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a point between the Israelis and the Palestinians where the gap is wider,” said Ambassador Dennis Ross, a Mideast policy adviser to five U.S. presidents, who joined Al-Hussein on a panel Tuesday night in the packed Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

President Donald Trump’s declaration last year that the United States will move its embassy in Israel to the contested city of Jerusalem has ignited anti-government protests in Jordan.

“We expressed our concerns about it. At the end of the day, it is the United States’ decision, and we respect that. The advice we gave, and the concerns, turned out to be true,” Al-Hussein said.

“We don’t want to see conflict. We don’t want to see lives lost on either side. It has gone on for too long. … The Palestinian-Israel track is really important because, we believe, it is at the heart of what a lot of extremists use as a recruiting tool — a sense of injustice and unfairness that this conflict continues to produce.”

“We have serious issues to deal with. Extremism. And how is the Mideast going to evolve in the future? … We are looking at how we can make the Middle East a beacon of hope in an area that has suffered humanitarian catastrophes.”

The panel forum in Denver was staged by the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, a local think tank known as the CELL that is devoted to fighting racism and terrorism. On Wednesday, Al-Hussein moved on to Washington for meetings with U.S. congressional and military leaders. Jordan has asked for armed drones, which President Barack Obama refused, but which Trump administration officials reportedly have said they will reconsider.

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