WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday that he is quite concerned about the apparent shift of Jordan from a neutral position in the Persian Gulf conflict to clear alignment with Iraq.
"They seem to have moved over, way over into the Saddam Hussein camp totally," Mr. Bush said during a brief photo session at the White House. "There is quite some concern now about what appears to be a shift in the Jordanian position."
Mr. Bush's comments came as his administration was wrestling with how harshly to respond to a blistering speech made Wednesday by Jordan's King Hussein, during which the king asserted that the U.S.-led war was not against Iraq alone but "against all Arabs and against all Muslims."
The president said initially that he was inclined to be understanding of the king's delicate position as a neighbor of Iraq with a large Palestinian population that considers Saddam Hussein to be a champion of its interests.
But by Thursday, the administration's position began to harden with the announcement that Mr. Bush was considering whether to withhold $55 million in economic and military aid for Jordan already approved by Congress.
And yesterday, the White House said a more thorough analysis of the king's speech made it clear that the Jordanian leader was now actively aiding the Iraqi war effort by giving voice and credence to President Hussein's claim that the allied coalition is trying to destroy Iraq as a modern state.
"That's the very core" of the way Saddam Hussein is trying to portray the war, said presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, who said that Iraq's primary goal was to alienate the Arab world against the United States.
U.S. officials insist they don't believe Mr. Hussein has been able to reach much beyond the Palestinians in his cause because most Arab nations, including Egypt and Syria as well as Saudi Arabia, are part of the anti-Iraq coalition.
But the open allegiance to Iraq by King Hussein, who had earlier tried to play the role of peacemaker, is clearly troubling Mr. Bush.
"We're concerned about it and don't understand some of the rhetoric coming out of there," the president said. "We've always had a historically good relationship with Jordan, but this complicates things."