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US ambassador hails Jordan’s ‘significant’, broad reform efforts

AMMAN — US Ambassador to Jordan Henry T. Wooster commended His Majesty King Abdullah's leadership and the comprehensive modernisation efforts the country has embarked upon at the behest of the King, describing them as "courageous steps and significant reforms".

In an exclusive interview with Al Rai Arabic daily, Wooster said that relations between the US and Jordan have been long-standing, deep-rooted and entrenched for decades, stressing that the US is committed to Jordan's political, social and economic stability.

Jordan plays a pivotal role in achieving a comprehensive and just solution to the Palestine issue, and the US supports the Kingdom’s efforts, he said.

In this regard, the envoy stressed that his country's policy has been consistent in terms of preserving the status quo in Jerusalem, upholding the two-state solution and emphasising the Hashemite Custodianship over Jerusalem’s holy sites.

On Jordan’s recently launched reforms initiated on Royal directives, Wooster said that the initiatives "are genuinely Jordanian, developed by Jordanian minds, and they have the support of the US".

Wooster said that he witnessed several reform programmes in various countries during his career, yet the recent comprehensive reform project in Jordan, along with its economic, political and administrative tracks, is the “boldest”, especially given its inclusivity and broad scope. The reforms come at a difficult time regionally and a sensitive time globally, the ambassador noted.

The US supports the success of each of the three paths, which will make significant contributions to bringing Jordan out of its financial crisis, Wooster said, adding that the reform programme is accompanied by challenges and difficulties applicable to the Jordanian context, coupled with multiplier challenges resulting from difficult regional conditions.

To overcome the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian war amid regional instability, Wooster said that Jordan has prepared the Economic Modernisation Vision that carries important objectives to improve the economic conditions in Jordan, and create a more competitive economy at the regional and international levels through growth of the private sector.

The issues of gender equality and equal employment opportunities are important for adding value to Jordan's economy, Wooster said. If women are as equally involved in the labour market as men, the International Labour Organisation estimates the country can expect an approximate $8 billion return annually, he added.

Wooster noted that some countries, including Jordan, have a culture that approves of women staying at home, which requires the government and civil society to increase awareness of the importance of women’s labour force participation.

When asked about the potential US role in helping Jordan in its water crisis, where the water share per capita stands at 68 cubic metres annually, the envoy said that at last week’s donor conference for the National Carrier Project, he reiterated the $700 million announced the previous year at the donor conference, comprising $300 million in grants and $400 million in project finance, subject to availability of funds and bankability requirements. He encouraged other international partners to participate in this important effort that supports Jordan’s water security.

Wooster added that since 2011, the US has provided more than $1 billion to support the water sector in all governorates in the Kingdom as the US is aware of Jordan's water stress

Referring to Syria, the ambassador said that the US does not support the normalisation of relations with Assad regime, especially as Assad has not implemented the conditions that the international community agreed upon after the outbreak of the conflict in Syria, and the regime has failed to reach a lasting and permanent peace per UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

Regarding the role of influential countries in realising political and economic stability in Syria to help refugees voluntarily return to their country, Wooster said that Jordan has adopted a consistent humanitarian stance at all levels not to return Syrian refugees to unsafe areas in Syria, which the US and the international community as a whole values with high regard.

He added that the Kingdom has provided much assistance to Syrian refugees and has borne significant weight of hosting large numbers, 80 per cent of whom live outside refugee camps among the local population, which has increased pressures on the infrastructure.

The US commends Jordan's unwavering stances towards refugees as the Kingdom offers a distinct humanitarian model in assisting refugees, and the international community commends Jordan's assistance to Syrian refugees, the ambassador said.

Despite the existence of Caesar sanctions on Syria, humanitarian assistance has never been prohibited, and the United States had already provided more than $500 million in humanitarian aid in earthquake-affected areas, Wooster said. The US Department of Treasury issued General License No. 23 after the earthquake, valid through this summer, which affirms the ability to provide humanitarian assistance within Syria.

The ambassador said that the US, in response to the earthquake, has allocated an additional $235 million in humanitarian assistance.

Moving to the increasing Israeli extremist rhetoric despite the Aqaba and Sharm El Sheikh meetings, Al Rai asked about possible mechanisms to reach satisfactory solutions to all sides, and Wooster noted that Jordan is playing a leading role in the political and diplomatic arenas to reduce tensions.

Such a role was clear during the meetings held in Aqaba and Sharm El Sheikh, “where all know that the Kingdom has played this role for decades”, he said, expressing Washington's support for such a positive role to find a just and comprehensive solution based on the two-state solution.

Regarding guarantees for Jordan to maintain the status quo in Jerusalem and the Hashemite Custodianship over the city's holy sites — under the right-wing government, which calls for the annihilation of Palestinian cities and delivers Israel's grand map, threatening the sovereignty of the surrounding countries, and adopting a speech that is the most extreme since its inception — Wooster said that the US has denounced the Israeli minister's remarks denying the existence of the Palestinian people and depicting an Israeli map which included parts of Jordan and Palestine within its borders.

The ambassador reiterated his country’s firm position on upholding the Hashemite Custodianship over Jerusalem's holy sites and the two-state solution as the only solution to the conflict in Palestine, stressing the need to preserve the status quo in Jerusalem.