FAYETTEVILLE – Although some have argued for the United States to use isolationist tactics and stop intervening in Middle East conflicts, “that’s naïve and not how the world works,” said Dina Kawar, Jordan’s ambassador to the United States
America “is a power and that is part of the responsibility that comes with being a power,” said Kawar, who has served as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s ambassador to the United States since June 2016. However, “the problems in the middle of the East cannot only be solved by US diplomacy and intervention – we also have to pull ourselves together.
American interest in the region remains very strong, so “a partnership” — the kind Jordan and the US have had for decades — “is the best way to look at it,” she said. The US and Jordan “have had very strong diplomatic ties for 72 years, the US is the largest donor of aid to Jordan, and Jordan is part of an anti-terrorist coalition” with the US and others.
A free trade agreement struck under former President Bill Clinton’s administration continues to benefit both nations, and there are significant numbers of Jordanians going to school in the United States, while a growing number of American students are also studying in Jordan, where “Jordanians are very hospitable,” she said. “There are an incredible number of Jordanian doctors in the USA”
And while citizens of many Middle Eastern countries harbor dislike for the US, the opposite is true in Jordan, she said. Jordanians “love [American] Culture, [from] dinner to the cinema.”
They also recognize the value of close ties with America for Jordan, she said. “This relationship is vital and indispensable for us.”
Kawar made the comments Tuesday on the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville campus during a discussion moderated by Najib Ghadbian, associate professor of political science at the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.
Kawar “has had a long career as a diplomat and I met her when she was Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations for two years prior to her current role,” Ghadbian said. While leading the Jordanian delegation during Jordan’s non-permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council from 2014 to 2015, she “made history” as the first Arab woman to ever chair the Council.
Kawar “is well respected in the diplomatic arena and in general world politics,” said Tom Paradise, a professor at the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies and the university’s Department of Geosciences. “We are very happy to have them here.”
“A VERY DIFFICULT NEIGHBORHOOD”
Bordered by Iraq to the northeast, Syria to the north and the Palestinian West Bank and Israel to the west, Jordan is “in a very difficult neighborhood,” Kawar said. “No country can live in a vacuum,” and Jordan is “in the middle of everything,” which among other things has flooded the nation with refugees.
By many estimates, about a third of Jordan’s population is made up of refugees, more than 2 million from Palestinian occupied territories, and another million plus from Syria, she said. “Jordan is a resilient country,” but it lacks natural resources — including water — so supporting refugees puts a further strain on the Jordanian government and its citizens, as refugees need education, healthcare and jobs to thrive.
Of course, Jordan is keen on peaceful solutions to the Syrian civil war that began more than a decade ago, as well as a “two-state solution” to the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, she said. “We believe in [Palestinians’] right to land,” and Jordan wants Syria “to return to some sort of normalcy [because] The Syrian people are suffering [and] the situation as it is cannot continue.
EDUCATION AND BUSINESS
Although a constitutional monarchy, Jordan’s king – Abdullah II has been on the throne since 1999 – exercises considerable executive and legislative powers and his current focus is on improving the economic prospects for Jordanians, she said. While it is very positive for Jordan to have such a highly educated population – Jordan is considered the most educated nation in the Arab world and has the lowest illiteracy rate among these nations – these citizens also want opportunities “they deserve”.
Jordan’s private sector needs “more foreign investment,” so the government is working to change investment and tax laws, she said. Tourism has long been “very important for Jordan, but tourism is very volatile” – it has all but evaporated during the pandemic – prompting Jordan to examine its other “areas of excellence” such as a “very strong energy sector”. and a film industry that is “getting stronger”.
“A VERY OPTIMISTIC LOOK”
Among those interested in Kawar’s perspective Tuesday was Fareed Al Farah, a Jordanian studying exercise science and Arabic who has lived in the United States since 2014.
This university “is becoming more diverse every day, but it’s definitely not every day that we have such an ambassador on campus and I’m very grateful,” he said. He appreciated Kawar, who stressed the importance of education for Jordanians and the support the country offers – whether students are studying in Jordan or abroad.
He would like to return to Jordan one day, but he needs to see evidence of better job opportunities in the nation, he said. “I think everyone [Jordanian] would love to come back, but opportunities must arise.”
Newcomer Shawn Sproles is “enthusiastic about the Middle East and I want to travel to Jordan,” which helped lure him into Kawar’s discussion, he said. “I’m interested in exploring other religions and meeting people who aren’t like me.”
Freshman Abdullah Asif is a member of the university’s Arab Students’ Union, so Tuesday’s discussion “is obviously relevant to us,” and he noted that Jordan “is in much better shape than its neighbors,” he said. That’s because of an educated population, but also because of the nation’s strong ties to America, and Kawar definitely had “a very optimistic view of Jordan.”