US defense secretary lands in Jordan at start of Middle East tour
Jordan’s King Abdullah told US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday a surge in West Bank violence threatened regional stability and asked for assistance to fight a growing drug war along its borders with Syria blamed on Iranian-backed militias, Jordanian officials said.
Austin arrived in Jordan earlier at the start of a Middle East tour that will also take him to Israel and Egypt in a show of support for its main regional allies against the growing threat posed by Iran, US officials said.
He wrote on Twitter before his departure that he would meet key leaders and “reaffirm the US commitment to regional stability and advancing the shared interests of our allies and partners.”
King Abdullah, whose country hosted the first Israeli-Palestinian meeting in Aqaba last week with the participation of top US and Egyptian officials, said efforts must be accelerated to bring about a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal based on a two-state solution.
“There is a need for calm and to reduce escalation in Palestinian territories and stop any unilateral steps that undermined stability and abort chances of attaining peace,” a palace statement said after the talks between the king and Austin.
In Israel, Austin will also raise concerns about the violence in the West Bank that has alarmed Jordan and Arab leaders and discuss diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions ahead of Muslim and Jewish religious holidays, US officials said.
The US Defense Department said ahead of the visit that discussions would focus on the growing threat Iran poses to regional stability, and on advancing multilateral security cooperation with integrated air and missile defenses.
Central to discussion will be the “full constellation of Iran-associated threats..,” a senior defense official was quoted as saying on the Pentagon’s official site ahead of the visit.
“Those threats include Iran’s arming, training and funding of violent proxy groups, aggression at sea, cyber threats, its ballistic missile program and drone attacks,” he added.
The king discussed with Austin Jordan’s concerns over the growing entrenchment of Iranian-backed militias in southern Syria whom officials say have stepped up drug-smuggling operations through its borders to reach markets in the Gulf, a Jordanian official told Reuters.
Amman wants more US military aid to bolster security on the border, where Washington has since the more than decade-long conflict began given around $1 billion to establish border posts, Jordanian officials say. Jordan has a roughly 375 km-long border with Syria.