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Jordan's Abdullah to press Trump administration to step up war on Islamist militants

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan's King Abdullah will hold talks with U.S. President Donald Trump's administration in Washington on Monday on how to bolster the kingdom's domestic security amid the growing risk of Islamic State militant attacks, officials and diplomats said.

They said the monarch, who will be the first Arab leader to hold talks with the new administration, is scheduled to meet congressional leaders, senators and senior officials including Defense Secretary James Mattis in coming days.

A meeting was expected to be arranged with Trump, one official said, but there was no official confirmation.

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The king will address top administration officials about his country's fears of Islamic State fighters descending southward to its borders at the end of a U.S.-led campaign whose goal is to drive them out of their de facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria.

"The king will seek a stepped-up campaign against the extremists and secure extra resources to help ensure the militants would not be allowed to move towards our borders," one official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Abdullah, a former special operations commander, shares Trump's views about the priority of fighting the hardline group, warning repeatedly of its threat to a kingdom that borders Israel to the west, Syria to the north and Iraq to its east.

The kingdom is among the few Arab states that have taken part in a U.S-led air campaign against Islamic State militants holding territory in Iraq and Syria. The country has pockets of support for the militants and has been eager not to trumpet its military role in a neighboring Arab country.

Jordanian militants embracing Islamic State ideology killed at least 10 people in an attack in the southern city of Karak last December.

A Jordanian guard killed three U.S. servicemen last November in an attack that Washington did not rule out was politically motivated and signaled risks of radicalization from within the U.S.-equipped Jordanian armed forces.

Two officials said Abdullah was heartened by a new Republican administration whose emphasis on traditional security would be a refreshing change from the former Obama administration's concern over the pace of political reforms, which was seen in Jordan as interference.

The monarch hopes Mattis will be more responsive to the extra military funding and equipment the Obama administration had turned down for one of its key regional allies.

U.S. officials say the kingdom is one of the largest recipients of its foreign military financing.

U.S. Patriot missiles are stationed in Jordan and the U.S. Army has hundreds of trainers. Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Washington has spent millions of dollars to set up an elaborate border defense system.

But Washington has been dismayed by the mishandling of a series of security lapses in the past year, including an attack by an Islamic State suicide bomber on a U.S.-funded military outpost on the Syrian border.

'WHAT ARE OUR OPTIONS?'

The king will also seek to ease U.S. concerns over his strong support of the Russian military campaign in Syria, where the shift towards Moscow has been interpreted as coming at the expense of Washington, Jordan's main donor.

Abdullah, who has warm personal ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, went to Moscow last week ahead of Washington in a sign of Russia's rising role in the Middle East

Officials defend Jordan's strong embrace of Moscow's diplomatic and military drive to reach a political settlement in Syria that could keep President Bashar al-Assad in power for years in the absence of a strong counterbalancing U.S role.

"Without Russia, we will not be able to find solutions to not only the Syrian problem but other regional problems in the Middle East," Abdullah told reporters in Moscow, adding he shared with Putin "the same vision of bringing stability to our region."

Abdullah had accused the Obama administration of failing to act decisively and leaving Moscow to fill the vacuum.

"What are our options? You have no choice in the absence of someone else to rely on," said one official in reference to the Jordanian shift towards Moscow.

In a kingdom whose destiny has been shaped by successive Arab-Israeli wars, Abdullah will also raise concerns about Trump's pledge to move Washington's embassy to Jerusalem.

Jordan fears that could bury hopes of a two-state solution and jeopardize a peace settlement. Officials say it could unleash a new bout of violence in Palestinian territories with a spillover into the kingdom where a majority of the population is of Palestinian origin.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Peter Cooney)

 
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