Saudi crown prince visits Jordan in thaw of ties, raising hope for new investments -officials

·3-min read

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) -Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Jordan's King Abdullah on Tuesday amid a thaw in relations after years of tension due to divergent views on regional conflicts and unfulfilled pledges of aid.

The first visit to Jordan in years by the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia comes at a time, officials say, when Jordan's economy is struggling with the economic knock-on effects of the Ukraine war.

Business leaders and officials hope it will unblock at least $3 billion of investment projects that Saudi Arabia committed to in recent years but which never materialized.

Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), is looking into investing billions of dollars in mega-infrastructure projects in Jordan, including an estimated $2.5 billion railway project, a senior Jordanian official said.

Saudi Arabia has over $12 billion worth of investments in Jordan and once rescued the country with cash injections, but has held off direct budget support.

Officials before the talks said discussions would look at more ways to help Jordan's economy, which has been hammered by rising fuel prices and higher food imports. Jordan imports most of its energy needs.

Prince Mohammed was quoted as saying in a statement after the talks he was keen "to push relations to a new phase."

"There are large opportunities in Jordan that we are keen to actively participate in and such investments will bring benefits to both countries," the prince said.

Officials say Jordan's economic strains have worsened with the end of Gulf grants and little extra funding from Western donors in the last few years to cope with sluggish growth and high unemployment.

King Abdullah also discussed with Prince Mohammed a summit meeting next month in Jeddah where U.S. President Joe Biden will meet with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Iraq, Jordan and Egypt. [L1N2Y41XY]

Saudi Arabia and Jordan share deep concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions and what they see as Tehran's destabilising role in the region, a Jordanian official said.

Saudi-Jordanian ties reached a low during former President Donald Trump's term in office when Amman, a staunch U.S. ally, felt that Riyadh's close relations with Trump's administration undermined Jordan's pivotal role in Arab-Israel peace making.

Relations were also strained by accusations that Saudi Arabia was involved in an alleged plot by King Abdullah's half-brother Prince Hamza to unseat the monarch.

Former Jordanian royal palace chief Bassem Awadallah, who was later one of bin Salman's closest advisers, was convicted of involvement in the conspiracy and sentenced to 15 years in prison, while Prince Hamza is under house arrest.

When King Abdullah was asked in a CNN interview last year whether Riyadh had any role in the alleged plot, he did not deny it but said finger pointing did not help. Jordan never publicly accused Saudi Arabia of involvement and Riyadh has not commented. Jordanian officials say the affair is now behind them.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Leslie Adler, Mark Heinrich and Richard Pullin)

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