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Iran: Jordan's King Could Act As Mediator Between Tehran, Washington

Today, Jordan's King Abdullah completed the first visit by a Jordanian monarch to Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Jordan is an ally of the United States; Iran is one of the staunchest opponents of Washington. After the toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 and Saddam Hussein's ouster from Iraq earlier this year, Iran finds itself surrounded by countries either controlled by or allied with the U.S. In that regard, what messages did King Abdullah deliver to Tehran?

Prague, 3 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Jordan's King Abdullah left Iran today after two days of meetings with Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mohammad Khatami.

Reports say the main topic of discussion was the situation in neighboring Iraq. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi told Abdullah that today's swearing in of Iraq's 25-member cabinet is a step toward granting authority to the Iraqi people.

Yesterday, Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted Khatami as saying that both countries, which share long borders with Iraq, want to increase cooperation on solving regional problems.

But this dry, official language reveals little about the meat of the discussions in Tehran. Analysts say the main problem discussed was clearly the heavy U.S. presence in the region.

Julian Lindley-French, a regional expert at the Geneva Center for Security Policy in Switzerland, told RFE/RL Iran is concerned about the security and humanitarian situation in Iraq and about future U.S. plans for the region, including Iran. But Lindley-French said Tehran needs mediators to facilitate talks with the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

"The Iranians clearly have major concerns about the American presence in Iraq, not least of which because they have an American presence in Afghanistan, on the other flank," Lindley-French said. "But at the same time, Tehran has also indicated that it really does not wish to seek confrontation per se at this moment in time, and I think obviously there cannot be direct U.S.-Iran contacts over this issue at the moment."

Ali Reza Nourizadeh, director of the Center for Arab-Iranian Studies in London, told RFE/RL that Abdullah can act as a messenger between the U.S. and Iran and help reduce tensions over Iraq. "I would say that [King Abdullah] would be perhaps the most decent, I would say, friend of the United States in passing messages to Iran because Jordanians, what they want -- they want a stable Iraq," he said. "They have no ambition to get involved in Iraq's politics. But in the meantime, they are not happy to see that the influence in Iraq is limited to the influence of Iranians."

Nourizadeh said Abdullah, as a member of a Hashemite family directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad, is respected in Iraq, particularly by its large Shi'a community. "The Jordanians also enjoy very good relations with Shi'a in Iraq, although they are Sunni. But they are from Hashemite family. The king of Jordan is from Hashemite family, and he always had very good relations with at least the moderate Shi.a in Iraq," Nourizadeh said.

Analysts believe another issue likely to have been raised in the meetings is the extradition of Abu Musaab Zarqawi. The U.S. says Zarqawi, a Jordanian citizen, is a senior figure in the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and accuses Tehran of sheltering him. Nourizadeh said Amman suspects Zarqawi of being behind last month's bomb attack against the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad that killed 19 people.

News agencies report that Abdullah was accompanied to Iran by Jordan's intelligence chief, Saad Khair.

Analysts say Abdullah might play a role mediating the extradition of other suspected terrorists being held in Iran, including such Al-Qaeda figures as Saif al-Adl, who is wanted for the deadly 12 May bombings targeting Westerners in Riyadh, and Abu Muhammad al-Masri, who is believed to be connected to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

Iran says it has arrested some senior Al-Qaeda figures in recent months but has declined to identify them. It has said it will not hand them over to the U.S.

However, Nourizadeh said Tehran may ask for concessions in return. He believes Iran is likely to ask Jordan to extradite members of an Iranian armed opposition group, the Mujahedin Khalq, who are believed to be in Jordan.

Just two years ago, the Mujahedin Khalq were freely functioning in Jordan and had offices in the capital, Amman. After ties with Iran improved, Jordan closed the offices of the organization.

However, analysts say that, until now, Jordan has allowed members of the Mujahedin Khalq to cross the Jordanian border from Iraq and that many Mujahedin Khalq fighters are reportedly staying in refugee camps on the Jordanian-Iraqi border.