WASHINGTON -- The United States moved to cut aid to Jordan yesterday following a bitter speech Wednesday by King Hussein that condemned the United States' and its allies' war against Iraq and appeared to side with Saddam Hussein.
State Department spokeswoman Kim Hoggard said that officials were "reviewing" this year's aid package to Jordan, which includes $35 million in economic and $20 million in military assistance. An administration official said "review" meant that the aid was being looked at with a view to reducing it.
The move to penalize Jordan came despite belief within the administration that the alternative to King Hussein's fragile regime would be a worse prospect for the United States, since it probably would be dominated by Palestinians and Islamic fundamentalists.
Testifying on Capitol Hill before the move on aid was disclosed, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said King Hussein was on "the wrong side," but he also noted the strong pressure the king was under from his country's large pro-Iraqi Palestinian population.
"When we look at alternatives, we don't see what we perceive to be a particularly pretty picture," Mr. Baker said.
Deterioration in relations between the United States and Jordan, which lies between Iraq and Israel, accelerated recently when Jordan complained that allied bombs had killed its truck drivers in Iraq. The United States said that Iraq was using civilian convoys as a cover to transport military supplies and also that Jordan's continued imports of Iraqi oil, which had been largely ignored, violated the economic embargo against Iraq. (Jordan insists it has an exemption to receive the oil.)
Previously, the United States had encouraged other countries to compensate Jordan for economic damage.
Jordan's minister of information, briefing reporters yesterday in Amman, insisted that the king's speech represented no change in policy and said his remarks had to be viewed together with his previous criticism of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
"The king is still interested in normal relations with everyone," said Ibrahim Izzadine. He said the king felt a historical responsibility to help shape public opinion in the Arab world and believed strongly that the fabric of the Arab nation was being eroded.
He said that "we are not shutting ourselves and we are not closing our ears at all."
Earlier yesterday, Mr. Baker fleshed out his ideas on restoring the economies and security of the region after the war by proposing a new Middle East Bank for Reconstruction and Development, along the lines of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development created last year to aid Eastern Europe and similar institutions stimulating development in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
But the secretary indicated that assistance to Iraq would depend on whether Saddam Hussein's regime stayed in power.
"There's no suggestion on our part that . . . the rebuilding or reconstruction of Iraq could proceed if the current leadership of Iraq remained in power to the same degree and effect and extent that it would otherwise," he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
He said most of the reconstruction money would come from the region, including the wealthy Persian Gulf states.
Discussing the future of the Middle East peace process, Mr. Baker leaned further in the direction of promoting direct negotiations between Israel and Arab states, expressing hope that Syria might change its hostile stance after the war.
Mr. Baker was sharply challenged by Maryland Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes on why the American taxpayer should be asked to assume any of the added financial burden of the gulf war.
The secretary said the United States' share of the added military costs represented about 20 percent of their total. He argued that with large interests at stake in the region, it "is our conclusion that we should also be participants in the incremental economic expenses."