LONDON: King Abdullah II of Jordan met the new British prime minister on Wednesday as the UK seeks to shore up relations with one of its strongest Arab allies amid heightened tensions with Iran.
The meeting with Boris Johnson in London also came as the UK nears a crunch Brexit deadline with a withdrawal from the European Union without a deal increasingly likely.
London is looking to secure and boost trade ties with markets away from Europe to soften the blow and Jordan is seen as a reliable, if small, trade partner.
The king was greeted warmly by Johnson outside 10 Downing Street ahead of the talks and a working lunch.
“The leaders reflected on the close bilateral relationship and longstanding friendship between our countries,” a Downing Street spokesperson said. “The Prime Minister welcomed the King’s progress in delivering economic reforms and urged continued momentum.”
The king and Johnson also discussed Jordan’s role in “maintaining regional stability” and the kingdom’s hosting of Syrian refugees.
The Jordanian state news agency said the meeting would cover “the deep-rooted, strategic relations between Jordan and the UK, and current regional developments.”
Jordan also hopes to secure further investment for its fragile economy, which is going though tough austerity measures as part of an International Monetary Fund program.
In February, London hosted a conference attended by the king to boost investment in his country. During the event the UK increased its aid and support for Jordan.
But the escalating tensions with Iran in the Gulf, including the seizure of a British oil tanker last month, were expected to dominate discussions.
Yossi Mekelberg, professor of international relations at Regent’s University London and an associate fellow at Chatham House, said the situation with Iran was a high priority for both sides but that Jordan was often cautious and pragmatic when there is a major crisis.
“They (Jordan) wouldn’t like to see a deterioration in relations and a war in the Gulf, on the other hand, they are recognizing now that there is a real danger of this happening, there is danger of Iran developing nuclear weapons.
“I think Hezbollah and the Iranian forces on its doorsteps in Syria is another issue that doesn’t make Jordan very happy, it’s a cause of worry for Jordan to.”
The two nations were also expected to discuss the conflict between Israel and Palestine and a US peace plan, which has angered Palestinians and drawn consternation from Jordan.
“The king will probably point out to the prime minister that the current impasse is dangerous and it’s not going to last and this might affect the stability of the Hashemite Kingdom,” Mekelberg said.
The UK and Jordan have historic ties and the royal family is closely connected to the UK. The King’s mother was British and he studied at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.