U.S. to supply Jordan soon with three anti-missile batteries
Thu Jan 30,12:59 PM ET
By JAMAL HALABY, Associated Press Writer
AMMAN, Jordan - The United States will give Jordan three anti-missile batteries and deploy American troops to the Arab kingdom ahead of a possible war in neighboring Iraq, Jordanian and U.S. officials said Thursday.
But Jordanian Information Minister Mohammed Affash Adwan denied that the kingdom will allow its territory or airspace to be used in an attack on Iraq.
"Jordan's position in this regard is clear and firm and we have stressed it time and again," Adwan told the official Petra news agency. "We will not participate in any form whatsoever in any possible war in the region and we will not allow our territory or airspace to be used from any side in this war."
Jordan-based diplomats, however, said the kingdom is likely to provide significant logistical help to the United States if war erupts.
A senior Bush administration official familiar with planning for possible war in Iraq said Jordan has agreed to allow a U.S. troop presence there, but he provided no details on the arrangement.
Adwan dismissed as "untrue and completely baseless" that Jordan would allow American troops into the kingdom or its airspace to be used in a war on Iraq.
Jordanian officials, aware anti-war sentiment is high among their citizens, have worked to avoid portraying Jordan as taking an active part in any military operation against Iraq, its important trade partner, eastern neighbor, and homeland of a large community of expatriate Iraqis in Jordan.
The Jordan-based diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the logistical help included allowing the United States to use Jordanian airspace to attack Iraq.
Other forms of cooperation include using Jordan as a search and rescue base for activities which may expand during advanced stages of an attack on Baghdad to include operations in eastern Iraq, the diplomats added.
Iraq's Arab neighbors have called on America to find a peaceful resolution to the standoff over whether Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction. With Washington insisting Iraq is failing to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, Arabs appear increasingly resigned to war and have placed much of the blame on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites).
The Patriot anti-missile batteries, to be purportedly delivered to Jordan within a few days, will be deployed mostly on the eastern frontier bordering Iraq, officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
They declined to disclose other details.
In the 1991 Gulf war, Iraq violated Jordanian airspace when it launched 39 Scud missiles at Israel.
Last week, Jordan's army chief asked Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. Central Command, to provide the kingdom with an anti-missile battery. Prime Minister Ali Abul-Ragheb has said Jordan will rely on surface-to-air missiles to defend its airspace in the event Israel and Iraq lobbed missiles at each other.
Jordan had negotiated an air-defense deal with Russia, which failed to deliver quickly enough.
There was no immediate confirmation on the Patriot deal from Washington, which delivered six F-16 fighter jets to Jordan on Wednesday in the first batch of a donation of 16 attack aircraft said aimed to bolster Jordanian defense capabilities.
Jordan is a key U.S. ally in the Mideast, but has crucial business ties with Iraq. Trade with Baghdad amounted to US$700 million last year. The kingdom also receives all its daily requirement of 90,000 barrels of oil from Baghdad - half of it at preferential prices and the rest as a gift from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Jordanians are bound by close geographic, social, cultural and religious ties with Iraq and are sympathetic to the Iraqis, who blame 12 years of U.N. sanctions for the death of tens of thousands of people.
King Abdullah II, who has said Jordan will not be a launching pad for an attack on Iraq, has recently warned that chances to avert war on Iraq have "become slim." The government has urged Iraq to cooperate with U.N. inspectors charged with dismantling Baghdad's non-conventional weapons to defuse the looming crisis.