Pence met with protest in Jordan amid unease over US recognition of Jerusalem
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Pence met with protest in Jordan amid unease over US recognition of Jerusalem

In tour of regional allies, Pence reiterates US commitment to ‘preserving the status quo with regard to holy sites in Jerusalem’

US Vice President Mike Pence disembarks from his plane upon his arrival at Amman military airport, Jordan, Saturday, Jan 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
US Vice President Mike Pence disembarks from his plane upon his arrival at Amman military airport, Jordan, Saturday, Jan 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — US Vice President Mike Pence was met with protests in Jordan, even as he has been trying to reassure Arab allies who are uneasy over  US President Donald Trump’s move to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel

Pence was meeting Sunday with Jordan’s King Abdullah II for discussions that are expected to include the Trump administration’s December decision on Israel’s capital and plans to shift the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Ahead of his arrival, several dozen Jordanians gathered outside the US Embassy in Amman, protesting against US policies in the Middle East.

“America is the head of the snake,” they chanted. Some held up a banner reading: “The envoy (Pence) of the Zionist American right-wing is not welcome.”

Pence arrived in Jordan from Egypt where the vice president said after meeting Saturday with President Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi that he emphasized the US commitment to the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority.

Pence said he assured Sissi the US was committed to “preserving the status quo with regard to holy sites in Jerusalem,” and boundaries and other issues would be negotiated between the parties.

US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen disembark the plane upon his arrival at Amman military airport, Jordan, Saturday, Jan 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

“The United States of America is deeply committed to restarting the peace process in the Middle East,” Pence said before departing for Jordan. He said he would be “delivering that message in Jordan, delivering that message in Israel, as well.”

The Trump administration’s dramatic policy shift on Jerusalem has posed a dilemma for Jordan’s monarch.

Palestinians make up a large segment of Jordan’s population and the ruling Hashemite monarchy derives some of its political legitimacy from its historic role as custodian of Jerusalem’s main Muslim shrine, the Al-Aqsa mosque, which is Islam’s third holiest site.

US Vice President Mike Pence shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. (Khaled Desouki/Pool Photo via AP)

Any perceived threats to Muslim claims to the city, such as Trump’s shift on Jerusalem, could undermine its vital role there.

At the same time, Jordan relies on US military and economic aid — $1.5 billion in 2015 and $1.6 billion last year — at a time of a worsening economic downturn and rising unemployment.

At his Saturday meeting with Egyptian leader Sissi, Pence sought to reassure the head of the most populous Arab state that the US would support a two-state solution.

“We heard President Sissi out,” Pence said after the meeting. “He said to me about what he said publicly about a disagreement between friends over our decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

Pence said he assured Sissi that “we’re absolutely committed to preserving the status quo with regard to holy sites in Jerusalem, that we have come to no final resolution about boundaries or other issues that will be negotiated. … I reminded President el-Sissi that President Trump said that if the parties agree, we will support a two-state solution. My perception was that he was encouraged by that message.”

Sissi’s office said the president stressed Egypt’s support for a two-state peace settlement and “the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state with east Jerusalem as capital.”

Israel views Jerusalem as its unified capital, while the Palestinians demand East Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of their future state. A longstanding international consensus holds that the city’s final status should be decided through negotiations, which was also US policy going back decades.

Arab and Muslim nations support the Palestinians’ claim to East Jerusalem, and the Trump administration’s shift ignited protests across the region.

The US and Egypt pledged a united front against terrorism in the Mideast as Pence, the highest-level American official to visit the US ally in nearly a decade, began a trip through the region after leaving behind a government shutdown in Washington

Pence was also expected to meet with US troops in the region on Sunday and then depart for Israel, where he’s scheduled to hold meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, deliver an address to the Knesset and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to the report

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