Syria's Bashar Assad and Jordan's King Abdullah II: Friends from a New Era

Published June 11th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

King Abdullah II of Jordan and Bashar Assad, who looks set to become president of Syria, are already friends, realizing that they have plenty in common, presaging much warmer relations between their two countries than existed under their fathers. 

"They belong to the same generation and have the same way of looking at the world and at the need to modernize their countries," a top-ranking Jordanian official told AFP Sunday. 

Relations between the two countries, which were definitely chilly during the lifetimes of their fathers, "will certainly take off, because in the Arab world personal chemistry between leaders is a guarantee of good relations between their countries," the official said, asking not to be named. 

"The rivalry that marked the tumultuous relations between the late (King) Hussein of Jordan and (President) Hafez el-Assad of Syria affected relations between their countries, but will have no place in relations between their sons," said a political analyst. 

"The stage was different. The leaders were giants who had survived the wars against Israel and attempts to destabilize their regimes. The Arab world consisted of countries searching for their identity and their own form of nationalism," he said. 

A Western diplomat, who also asked to remain anonymous, agreed. 

"The new generation of Arab leaders is more pragmatic, and more interested in technology than in the utopia of Arab unity which always divided their predecessors," he said. 

Hafez Assad had already realized things had changed. The man, who had massed his troops at the border with Jordan in 1980 and given his approval to dozens of anti-Jordan attacks, decided it was time to turn the page when King Hussein died in February 1999. 

He appeared unexpectedly at the king's funeral, and encouraged his son to get close to the new king after the smooth handover of power in Jordan. 

"He saw his own succession coming up, and badly wanted to make an ally of Jordan, one of Syria's immediate neighbors," said the diplomat, an expert in Syrian affairs. 

Since then, the two young men have met and telephoned each other frequently, and the King has taken every opportunity, especially during trips abroad, to sing Bashar's praises. 

He describes him as "a brilliant young man" and the "open to the west" who "wants to modernize his country." 

Nevertheless, another western diplomat pointed out that the "future Jordanian-Syrian relations will depend most crucially on Bashar Assad's capacity to keep himself in power." 

"No-one knows if Bashar Assad is capable of leading his country, because no-one really knows him. In the short term, things will probably go reasonably well, but the future is the great unknown, because Syria is a dictatorship with its economy in poor shape and major domestic problems," he added. 

The monarch who was the last international leader to see Assad before his death on May 21, had a long talk alone with Bashar at that time, one of the officials who accompanied him told AFP. 

"After his meeting with the late President Assad, King and Bashar Assad spent five hours just talking to each other, without protocol, like friends," he said. 

What they said remains private. But politicians wonder whether, as his father's health worsened, Bashar perhaps wanted to hear from King Abdullah the details of his own succession a year earlier – (AFP) 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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