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Jordan’s king says Ukraine war exposes need for ‘Middle East NATO’

But Abdullah warns Palestinian issue a potential roadblock to the idea, says Russia’s focus on its invasion has created destabilizing vacuum filled by Iran-backed militias in Syria

King Abdullah II of Jordan, listens during his meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., May 11, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
King Abdullah II of Jordan, listens during his meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., May 11, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Jordan’s King Abdullah has raised the possibility of forming a military alliance in the Middle East similar to NATO, while pointing to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a potential roadblock to such an initiative.

In an interview with CNBC released on Friday, the monarch said he would “be one of the first people [who] would endorse a Middle East version” of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, noting the growing importance of regional cooperation in light of the challenges created by the war in Ukraine.

“All of us are coming together and saying, ‘how can we help each other,’” he said, noting that cooperation is “very unusual for the region,” better known for near-constant strife.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion and a blockade of its ports have halted much of that flow, endangering food supplies to many developing countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

Abdullah said Middle Eastern countries now realize that working together will eventually serve their own respective goals, also calling for more sharing of resources.

“If I’m okay and you’re not, I’m going to end up paying the price” because regional projects will be affected, he told CNBC. “I’m hoping what you’re seeing in 2022 is this new vibe… in the region [where we say], ‘how can we connect with each other and work with each other.'”

But the Jordanian king pointed to certain players and developments in the region that could potentially hinder regional collaboration such as his NATO-like proposal.

He argued that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of those stumbling blocks. “If [Israelis and Palestinians are] not talking to each other, that creates insecurities and instability in the region that will affect regional projects,” he said.

Abdullah subsequently pointed to Iran, saying the Islamic Republic’s role in the region is problematic.

“Nobody wants war, nobody wants conflict,” he vaguely said on the matter of Iran, visioning a future where “prosperity is the name of the game.”

Abdullah largely avoided criticizing the regime in Tehran but did make a point in expressing his opposition to Iran-backed Shiite militias on Jordan’s border with Syria, which the king argued have been a source of instability.

In this file photo taken on Tuesday, August 27, 2013, a Russian air defense missile system Antey 2500, or S-300 VM, is on display at the opening of the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)

The monarch said Shiite militias have filled a vacuum in Syria that was created when some Russian forces left the country to focus on the invasion of Ukraine. Abdullah went as far as to call the Russian presence in Syria a “good thing” and a “source of stability.”

“We’ve had more problems with shared militias creating problems on our borders, drug-smuggling and weapons smuggling. ISIS has arisen,” he said.

Israel has been less bullish about Russia’s presence in Syria at times due to Moscow’s apparent commitment to protecting Syria’s sovereignty along with its limited pushback to Iran’s continued efforts to establish a presence in the country.

Asked about Israel’s regional air defense pact, which Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday was “already in action,” Abdullah said “those are issues that are being discussed regionally,” adding that Jordan was looking to put “political differences aside to do something right for the peoples of the region.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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