By C. Todd Lopez
AMMAN, JORDAN (March 06, 2023) -- Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met Sunday with King Abdullah II of Jordan as part of a multiday tour of partner nations in the Middle East, emphasizing the continuing U.S. commitment to Middle Eastern partner nations as well as discussing ways to enhance existing relationships and strengthen security cooperation efforts.
As part of the meeting, the two leaders discussed a range of shared concerns, including security in nearby Iraq, the flow of illegal narcotics in the region, Syria, the escalating tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and working towards a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The secretary also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to deepen economic and military cooperation between the two countries. That commitment is underpinned by the Memorandum of Understanding on Strategic Partnership between the United States and Jordan, which was signed in September 2022. As part of that agreement, the U.S. pledges to provide $1.45 billion per year in bilateral foreign assistance to Jordan for seven years.
The primary focus of Austin's visit was to assure leaders such as Abdullah that while the U.S. has interests in other parts of the world -- including both Russia and China -- it remains a deeply committed partner not just to Jordan but to other nations in the Middle East and wants to help collaboratively solve shared security concerns.
"[We want] to reassure our partners that we are here for the long-term. We are going to be by their side going forward, no matter what," Austin said. "We've seen great partnerships over the ... last several decades. And those partnerships have, in fact, created greater stability in our region."
Already in the Middle East, Austin said, the U.S. military has more than 34,000 troops participating in shared security cooperation efforts. During his visit, he met with some of those troops who personify the ongoing U.S. commitment to partnership.
"My view is the troops look pretty gosh darn good," Austin said. "And they're pretty excited about what they're doing on a daily basis."
In addition to a troop presence in the Middle East, the U.S. military also has a sizable Air Force capability in the region, a capable naval fleet and air defense capacity.
During his meeting with Abdullah, Austin also expressed gratitude for Jordan's contributions to regional security cooperation, including efforts to facilitate integrated maritime, air and missile defense cooperation with allies and partners. Interoperability of things like information sharing capabilities among Middle Eastern nations is something the secretary said he'd be discussing with every leader he meets and it's something the U.S. is committed to.
"As we move forward and things evolve, the United States will continue to be a major player in making sure that we are working with partners to integrate capabilities and increase domain awareness and to continue to provide valuable intelligence resources to our allies and to our partners in the region," he said.
Another concern among partner nations in the Middle East is the ongoing series of threats associated with Iran, including the arming, training and funding of violent proxy groups, aggression at sea, cyber threats, its ballistic missile program, drone attacks, and the growing military relationship with Russia.
Iran has provided drones to Russia, which are now being used to kill civilians in Ukraine. How the Russians might, in turn, help the Iranians going forward is concerning, Austin said.
"We also expect that Russia will provide technology back to Iran in return for some of the help that they've gotten," Austin said. "And of course, if you're a country in this region, you'd be very concerned about that. And they are -- all the countries are very concerned about that. So this relationship is very troubling, and one that we need to keep an eye on."