Bill governing US defence support to Kingdom stalled as partisan dispute continues

A piece of legislation on US support to allies in the Middle East, which includes renewing defence support and cooperation with Jordan, has not been endorsed on Wednesday as a result of a dispute over the US partial government shutdown.

On Tuesday, the US Senate voted 56 to 44, falling short of the 60 votes needed to advance the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act”. The bill includes renewing support for the United States-Jordan Defence Cooperation Extension Act.

Most Senate Democrats have vowed to block all legislation in the Senate until it votes on a measure to end the shutdown, criticising President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans for backing his demand for $5.7 billion to build a barrier on the border with Mexico before reopening the government, according to Reuters.

A spokesperson from the US embassy in Amman told The Jordan Times that “due to the government shutdown, we are not able to respond to inquiries other than those pertaining to urgent national security, protection of property, and safety/security of personnel/American citizens”.

According to a copy of the bill obtained by The Jordan Times on Wednesday, the United States-Jordan Defence Cooperation Extension Act expresses “the sense of Congress that Jordan plays a critical role in responding to the humanitarian needs created by the conflict in Syria and that Jordan, the United States and other partners should continue working together to address such humanitarian crises and promote regional stability, including through support for refugees in Jordan and internally displaced people along the Jordan-Syria border and the creation of conditions inside Syria that will allow for the secure and voluntary return of displaced people”.

“The United States and Jordan should negotiate a new memorandum of understanding for 2018-2022 to significantly enhance Jordan’s military capacity and local economy,” according to a copy of the bill. 

The United States-Jordan Defence Cooperation Act of 2015 was amended to extend Jordan’s inclusion among the countries eligible for certain facilitated defence sales until December 31, 2022. 

It states that the US president is authorised to establish and operate an enterprise fund to provide assistance to Jordan.

US Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) voiced support for Jordan, underlining the importance of passing the bill.

“Jordan is a US ally… it is also a nation that has faced an onslaught of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria,” Rubio said in a statement on his website.

“In Senate bill 1, we reauthorise the US-Jordan Defence Cooperation Act that was passed in 2015, an act that, among other things, includes Jordan on the list of countries that are eligible for certain streamlined defence sales. Because Jordan itself is facing many of the same challenges, particularly because of our pullout from Syria,” Rubio said in the statement seen by The Jordan Times. 

The Middle East legislation included provisions supported by both Republicans and Democrats to impose new sanctions on Syria and guarantee security assistance to Israel and Jordan. 

Those are seen as efforts to reassure US allies worried about shifts in US policy since Trump abruptly announced plans last month for a quick withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 US troops in Syria, according to Reuters.

US forces in Syria have been fighting against Daesh militants and also served as a counterweight to the Syrian government, which is backed by Iran and Russia.

However, the act also includes a provision that would let state and local governments punish Americans for boycotting Israel, which opponents, including many Democrats, see as an impingement of free speech.

Even if it had passed the Senate, the act would have faced a doubtful future in the House of Representatives, where Democrats now hold a 235- to 199-seat majority, with one seat vacant, after sweeping victories in November.