Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations

June 1, 2017 (RL33546)
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This report provides an overview of Jordanian politics and current issues in U.S.-Jordanian relations. It provides a brief discussion of Jordan's government and economy and of its cooperation with U.S. policies in the Middle East.

Several issues are likely to figure in decisions by Congress and the Administration on future aid to and cooperation with Jordan. These include Jordan's continued involvement in attempting to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace and the stability of the Jordanian regime, particularly in light of ongoing conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq. U.S. officials may also consider potential threats to Jordan from the Islamic State organization (IS, also known as ISIL, ISIS, or the Arabic acronym Da'esh).

Although the United States and Jordan have never been linked by a formal treaty, they have cooperated on a number of regional and international issues over the years. Jordan's small size and lack of major economic resources have made it dependent on aid from Western and various Arab sources. U.S. support, in particular, has helped Jordan address serious vulnerabilities, both internal and external. Jordan's geographic position, wedged between Israel, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, has made it vulnerable to the strategic designs of more powerful neighbors, but has also given Jordan an important role as a buffer between these countries in their largely adversarial relations with one another.

The United States has provided economic and military aid to Jordan since 1951 and 1957, respectively. Total bilateral U.S. aid (overseen by State and DOD) to Jordan through FY2016 amounted to approximately $19.2 billion.

P.L. 114-254, the Further Continuing and Security Assistance Appropriations Act, 2017, specifies that appropriations for ESF/OCO and FMF/OCO be provided to Jordan. The act did not specify exact dollar amounts for the kingdom.

P.L. 115-31, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017, provides "not less than" $1.279 billion in bilateral aid to Jordan from State and Foreign Operations accounts.

In May 2017, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduced H.R. 2646, the United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Extension Act. This bill would reauthorize the United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015 and authorize the establishment of a U.S.-Jordanian Enterprise Fund.

According to President Trump's FY2018 budget request to Congress, the Administration is seeking $1 billion in total U.S. aid to Jordan, which is "consistent with the previous FY2015-FY2017 Memorandum of Understanding level of $1 billion per year." The FY2018 budget request also would continue FMF grant funding for Jordan, rather than converting FMF grants to loans.

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations


In the first half of 2017, the Trump Administration's relations with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan have been a prominent feature of U.S. policy in the Middle East. King Abdullah II has twice traveled to Washington (in February and April), where he and the President have reportedly discussed a range of issues, such as reviving the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations from the "outside in," that is, with Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan playing more of a lead role in the process. King Abdullah II has sought to emphasize Jordan's sensitivities to Israeli settlement construction and reports of a possible move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.1 Jordan also has tried to revive the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which proposes full diplomatic recognition of Israel by all Arab League member states in exchange for (1) Israel's withdrawal to pre-June 4, 1967, lines, (2) a "just solution" to the Palestinian refugee problem, and (3) the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. In late March 2017, Jordan hosted the Arab Summit, where delegates issued a final communique calling for a revival of "serious and productive peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians."2

On Syria and Iraq, President Trump has acknowledged Jordan's role as a key U.S. partner in countering the Islamic State organization (IS, also known as ISIL, ISIS, or the Arabic acronym Da'esh), saying that "In King Abdullah, America is blessed with a thoughtful and determined partner. He is a man who has spent years commanding his country's Special Forces. He really knows what being a soldier is, that I can tell you. And he knows how to fight. The King has been a leader in calling for a plan to defeat ISIS once and for all. And I'm with you on that."3

Finally, as the Trump Administration reevaluates U.S. relations with various partners across the globe, Jordanian officials have sought to stress the value of strong U.S.-Jordanian relations to policymakers and advocate for continued robust U.S. assistance. Due to Jordan's cooperation with U.S. counterterrorism forces and its hosting of Syrian refugees, recent U.S. aid to Jordan has reached record levels.4 P.L. 115-31, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017, provides the following for Jordan:

Recent Developments in U.S.-Jordanian Relations

Eager Lion Military Exercises—From May 7 to 18, 2017, the United States and Jordan participated in Eager Lion 2017 (the seventh such exercise), the largest multinational military exercise hosted by Jordan. Several thousand U.S. troops took part, and the exercise concluded with a fly-over by two U.S. Air Force B-1 strategic bombers, which entered Jordan's airspace accompanied by Jordanian jets.

Figure 1. U.S. and Jordanian Special Forces Training Together—Eager Lion 2017

Source: Defense Video Imagery Distribution System, May 8, 2017

Indictment of Ahlam al Tamimi—Ahlam al Tamimi is a Jordanian national who participated in the 2001 suicide bombing of a Jerusalem pizza restaurant that killed 15 people, including 2 Americans. In Israel, she had been sentenced to life in prison but was released and returned to Jordan in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas. The U.S. Justice Department filed criminal charges against Al Tamimi in 2013, and those charges were unsealed in early 2017. Jordan does not have an extradition treaty with the United States, and the kingdom's courts have ruled that Al Tamimi cannot be extradited until such a treaty is ratified.

Investigation into the Murder of Three American Soldiers—On November 4, 2016, three U.S. soldiers were killed when a Jordanian guard opened fire on their vehicle as it returned to Prince Faisal Air Base. Reportedly, the soldiers had been detailed to assist a CIA-led training mission for Syrian rebels. Initially, the Jordanian government claimed that the incident was a "tragic misunderstanding" caused when one of the gate guards heard a loud noise and believed the gate to be under attack. While an FBI investigation is ongoing, the U.S. Army has conducted its own investigation, and the fathers of the slain officers believe that soundless surveillance video of the incident proves that their sons were murdered.5 Subsequently, Jordanian officials are now claiming that the suspect, M'aarek Abu Tayeh, a member of the Jordanian king's elite Hashemite force, will be "tried in a military court."6

Figure 2. Jordan at a Glance

Area: 89,213 sq. km. (34,445 sq. mi., slightly smaller than Indiana)

Population: 8,185,384 (2016); Amman (capital): 1.155 million (2015)

Ethnic Groups: Arabs 98%; Circassians 1%; Armenians 1%

Religion: Sunni Muslim 97.2%; Christian 2%

Percent of Population Under Age 25: 55% (2016)

Literacy: 95.4% (2015)

Youth Unemployment: 29.3% (2012)

Source: Graphic created by CRS; facts from CIA World Factbook.

The Islamic State and Domestic Security

Jordan is a key contributor to the U.S.-led coalition to counter the Islamic State. Jordanian F-16s and other aircraft fly missions as part of Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria and Iraq. In limited instances, Jordanian ground forces and special operators have targeted Islamic State (IS) fighters along the kingdom's border with Syria and Iraq.7

Jordan is an attractive IS target not only because of these operations, but also because of the kingdom's strong ties to the West and close relations with Israel under a 1994 peace treaty. In 2016, there were several possible IS-directed or -inspired attacks inside Jordan, including the following:

Jordanian and U.S. authorities10 are concerned not only with IS infiltration into the kingdom, but also IS radicalization of Jordanians who have fought in Syria. The kingdom is home to several areas where manifestations of antigovernment sentiment are high, economic prospects are poor, and sympathy for violent extremist groups appears to be prevalent.

In 2017, many observers remain concerned that even as the Islamic State loses territory in Iraq and Syria, the group will use its networks elsewhere, such as in Jordan, to continue attacking its adversaries. However, these small-scale attacks have not threatened the kingdom's overall stability to date. According to one analysis, "The stigma of terrorism and extremism repels [Jordanian] families and tribes across the country, who see it as a stain on their honor as a collective whole. This has led many [Jordanian] tribes and families to disown sons and daughters who have joined ISIL."11

Figure 3. Syria-Jordan Border

Source: CRS Graphics.

The War in Southern Syria and Its Impact on Jordan

As Jordan confronts the complexity of the war in neighboring Syria, the kingdom finds itself dealing with a host of state and nonstate actors, including the Syrian regime of President Bashar al Asad, Russia, the United States, Israel, Iran, Hezbollah, affiliates of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and various Syrian rebel groups. Overall, the kingdom supports a political solution to the conflict, though it reportedly has armed and supported various rebel factions near its borders. Support for these proxy forces may be Jordan's preferred means of containing the damage from the Syrian war without having it spill over into the kingdom any more than it already has, given the high number of Syrian refugees who have fled there. The following sections break down the various battlefields confronting Jordan near its border:

Israeli-Occupied Golan Heights and the Syrian-Jordanian Border

One IS-affiliated militia known as the Khalid ibn al Walid Army remains ensconced alongside the borders of the Golan Heights,12 Syria, and Jordan. The group was formed in a merger of smaller groups in 2016. In late November 2016, the Khalid ibn al Walid Army fired mortars at the Israel Defense Force's (IDF's) Golani Reconnaissance Battalion. Israel responded with air strikes. In February 2017, the Khalid ibn al Walid Army seized more than a half dozen villages on the Syrian side of the border with Jordan, capturing cannons and T-55 Soviet-era tanks.13 Jordan claimed to have carried out a series of airstrikes in February 2017 against Islamic State targets in southern Syria.14

Jordanian-Syrian-Iraqi Triborder Area

On the far eastern outreaches of Jordan's border with Syria and Iraq, in a desert area known as Al Badia, lies the At Tanf base (in Syrian territory). Reportedly, U.S. and British Special Forces operate there to prevent Islamic State militants from penetrating into Jordan and to root IS militants out from the Syria-Iraq border crossing at Abu Kamal. In April 2017, IS militants attacked At Tanf, and U.S., British, and Jordanian troops, along with U.S.- and Jordanian-trained and -equipped Syrian rebels (New Syrian Army, Osoud al Sharqiya), warded off the attackers.15 In May 2017, a U.S. airstrike targeted a column of pro-Asad militia fighters advancing toward At Tanf, raising the prospect of heightened U.S. confrontation with pro-Asad forces. Other reports note that in late May 2017, the Syrian army and Iranian-backed militias sent reinforcements to desert areas near the Jordanian and Iraqi border.16 According to one analyst, "The post-IS battlefield is being prepared, and the formerly 'useless' eastern part of Syria is taking on much greater strategic importance in the competition between the east-west 'Shiite axis' and north-south 'Sunni axis.' It is through this lens that one should view the regime's recent offensive between Palmyra and the Jordanian border."17

A De-escalation Zone in Southern Syria?

As Jordan seeks to protect its northern border with Syria from terrorist attacks and refugee inflows, recent international attempts to create "de-escalation zones" in parts of Syria may serve Jordanian security interests. During recent peace talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana, a Jordanian delegation attended several rounds of negotiations (as "observers" or "monitors"). Russia had invited Jordan to attend the talks, and the Jordanians had agreed to secure the participation of Jordanian-backed moderate southern Syrian rebel factions in the Astana negotiations.18

On May 4, 2017, representatives of Russia, Iran, and Turkey at the fourth round of talks held at Astana issued a memorandum on the creation of de-escalation areas in Syria, including one in southern Syria (in parts of the provinces of Dara'a and Quneitra). The memorandum calls for hostilities between the Syrian government and opposition to cease within the de-escalation areas. The memorandum also calls for unhindered humanitarian access within these areas, as well as measures to restore infrastructure and encourage the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons. Neither the Syrian government nor representatives of Syrian opposition groups signed the memorandum.

If the de-escalation areas concept is successful, it could theoretically protect Jordanian- or U.S.-supported Syrian rebel factions from Russian and Asad regime air strikes, while allowing air strikes against terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State and Hayat Tahrir al Sham (Liberation of the Sham Committee), formerly Jabhat al Nusra, a Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda. However, the memorandum also calls for the de-escalation areas to be administered by forces of the guarantor countries (Russia, Iran, and Turkey), which could make some rebel groups hesitant to seek shelter there. Jordan has extended its influence in southern Syria through its support to proxy forces; the kingdom does not want to directly intervene in the conflict using large numbers of ground forces. On April 26, 2017, King Abdullah II remarked to local media that the kingdom will defend itself from any threats "without the need to have a role for the army inside Syria."19

U.S. Troops in Jordan

According to President Obama's last War Powers Resolution Report to Congress, "At the request of the Government of Jordan, approximately 2,300 U.S. military personnel are deployed to Jordan to support counter-ISIL operations and the security of Jordan and to promote regional stability. These forces will remain in Jordan, in full coordination with the Government of Jordan, until the security situation becomes such that they are no longer needed."20 Although precise details of the U.S. military presence in Jordan may be classified, American soldiers support the deployment of a contingent of U.S. F-16s and operate a Patriot missile battery near Jordan's northern border with Syria.

The Syrian Refugee Crisis in Jordan

Since 2011, the influx of Syrian refugees into Jordan has placed tremendous strain on the government and local economies, especially in the northern governorates of Mafraq, Irbid, Ar Ramtha, and Zarqa. As of June 2017, there are 660,315 UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees in Jordan. Hundreds of thousands of unregistered refugees also may be in the kingdom.

The government, which had already been limiting its intake of Syrian refugees, officially closed all entry points to the kingdom in June 2016 after a suicide bomb attack on the Jordanian-Syrian border killed seven people at the remote Al Rukban refugee camp. In August 2016, King Abdullah II remarked that

the decision, to declare the northern and north-eastern borders closed military zones, came following several warnings by Jordan that extremist elements exist among makeshift camps near the border. We will not allow, under any circumstances, Daesh, outlaws or smugglers to create bases there.... We will not allow anyone to put pressure on us. Our national security tops our priorities and is above all other considerations. We are committed to working with the international community for a solution, but it will under no circumstance come at our expense.21

In order to improve the livelihoods of Syrian refugees already living in Jordan and to receive more external assistance from the international community, the Jordanian government has entered into an arrangement with foreign governments and international financial institutions known as the Jordan Compact. Reached in February 2016 at a donor conference in London, the Compact aims to provide work permits to 200,000 Syrian refugees enabling them to be legally employed in the kingdom. Jordan also will expand access to education for over 165,000 Syrian children. In return, the Jordanian government will receive low-interest loans from foreign creditors (such as the World Bank's Global Concessional Financing Facility) and preferential access to European markets for goods produced in special economic zones with a high degree of Syrian labor participation (15%).

Figure 4. The "Berm"

Source: Source: Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

The "Berm"

As of January 2017, approximately 85,000 Syrians remain stranded in a no-man's land, commonly referred to as the "Berm," an isolated desert area just inside Jordanian territory where earthen mounds (or berms) mark the border with Syria. According to USAID, the population at the Berm includes large numbers of extremely vulnerable people—more than half are children. Periodically, the Jordanian government has used cranes to drop shipments of aid over the earthen wall demarcating the border. Living conditions at the makeshift camps at the Berm, known as Rukban and Hadalat, are poor, with no sanitation, running water, or electricity.

As previously mentioned, a June 2016 attack near the border has led authorities to close the area, shutting down deliveries of humanitarian aid. In 2017, the Islamic State claims to have carried out two car bomb attacks against civilians stranded at the Berm. In order to strengthen Jordan's military presence there, the United States has provided mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) to Jordan through the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program, and the Jordanian military has remounted 20 mm rotary cannons on their MRAPs in order to destroy suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIEDs).22

Country Background

Although the United States and Jordan have never been linked by a formal treaty, they have cooperated on a number of regional and international issues for decades. Jordan's small size and lack of major economic resources have made it dependent on aid from Western and various Arab sources. U.S. support, in particular, has helped Jordan deal with serious vulnerabilities, both internal and external. Jordan's geographic position, wedged between Israel, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, has made it vulnerable to the strategic designs of its powerful neighbors, but has also given Jordan an important role as a buffer between these countries in their largely adversarial relations with one another.

Jordan, created by colonial powers after World War I, initially consisted of desert or semi-desert territory east of the Jordan River, inhabited largely by people of Bedouin tribal background. The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 brought large numbers of Palestinian refugees to Jordan, which subsequently unilaterally annexed a Palestinian enclave west of the Jordan River known as the West Bank.23 The original "East Bank" Jordanians, though probably no longer a majority in Jordan, remain predominant in the country's political and military establishments and form the bedrock of support for the Jordanian monarchy. Jordanians of Palestinian origin comprise an estimated 55% to 70% of the population and generally tend to gravitate toward the private sector due to their general exclusion from certain public-sector and military positions.24

The Hashemite Royal Family

Jordan is a hereditary constitutional monarchy under the prestigious Hashemite family, which claims descent from the Prophet Muhammad. King Abdullah II (age 55) has ruled the country since 1999, when he succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father, the late King Hussein, after a 47-year reign. Educated largely in Britain and the United States, King Abdullah II had earlier pursued a military career, ultimately serving as commander of Jordan's Special Operations Forces with the rank of major general. The king's son, Prince Hussein bin Abdullah (born in 1994), is the designated crown prince.25

The king appoints a prime minister to head the government and the Council of Ministers (cabinet). On average, Jordanian governments last no more than 15 months before they are dissolved by royal decree. This seems to be done in order to bolster the king's reform credentials and to distribute patronage among a wide range of elites. The king also appoints all judges and is commander of the armed forces.

Political System and Key Institutions

The Jordanian constitution, most recently amended in 2016, empowers the king with broad executive powers. The king appoints the prime minister and may dismiss him or accept his resignation. He also has the sole power to appoint the crown prince, senior military leaders, justices of the constitutional court, and all 75 members of the senate. The king appoints cabinet ministers. The constitution enables the king to dissolve both houses of parliament and postpone lower house elections for two years.26 The king can circumvent parliament through a constitutional mechanism that allows provisional legislation to be issued by the cabinet when parliament is not sitting or has been dissolved.27 The king also must approve laws before they can take effect, although a two-thirds majority of both houses of parliament can modify legislation. The king also can issue royal decrees, which are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The king commands the armed forces, declares war, and ratifies treaties. Finally, Article 195 of the Jordanian Penal Code prohibits insulting the dignity of the king (lèse-majesté), with criminal penalties of one to three years in prison.

Jordan's constitution provides for an independent judiciary. According to Article 97, "Judges are independent, and in the exercise of their judicial functions they are subject to no authority other than that of the law." Jordan has three main types of courts: civil courts, special courts (some of which are military/state security courts), and religious courts. In Jordan, state security courts administered by military (and civilian) judges handle criminal cases involving espionage, bribery of public officials, trafficking in narcotics or weapons, black marketeering, and "security offenses." Overall, the king may appoint and dismiss judges by decree, though in practice a palace-appointed Higher Judicial Council manages court appointments, promotions, transfers, and retirements.

In January 2017, several former high-ranking military officers were briefly detained by authorities.28 These officers are from the National Higher Committee for Military Retirees (aka Jordan's Military Veterans' Association or, in Arabic, Tayyar, meaning "current"). Officers from this organization have been politically active and have at times opposed King Abdullah II's broad executive powers, calling for a more limited constitutional monarchy.29

Parliament and Elections

Although King Abdullah II has envisioned Jordan's gradual transition from a constitutional monarchy into a full-fledged parliamentary democracy,30 in reality, successive Jordanian parliaments have mostly complied with the policies laid out by the Royal Court. The legislative branch's independence has been curtailed not only by a legal system that rests authority largely in the hands of the monarch, but also by carefully crafted electoral laws designed to produce propalace majorities with each new election.31 Due to frequent gerrymandering in which electoral districts are drawn to favor more rural progovernment constituencies over densely populated urban areas, parliamentary elections have produced large progovernment majorities dominated by representatives of prominent tribal families. In addition, voter turnout tends to be much higher in progovernment areas since many East Bank Jordanians depend on family/tribal connections as a means to access patronage jobs.

Figure 5. Districting and Seat Allocation for 2016 Elections

Source: Independent Election Commission published by the Jordanian Embassy in Washington, DC.

Parliamentary elections for Jordan's Lower House (Chamber of Deputies) were last held in September 2016 under a new electoral law that permitted voters to cast ballots both for individual representatives allotted to their districts (the kingdom is divided into 23 electoral districts) and for party lists (a system known as open-list proportional representation, or PR). There were quotas for women (15 seats), Christians (9), and Circassians and Chechens (3). Members serve a four-year term, and the voting process was overseen by the Independent Elections Commission (IEC).

Traditionally, Islamist groups, such as the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, have participated in the political system, including in parliamentary elections (but not every time).32 In 1989 parliamentary elections, it won 22 out of 80 seats in the lower house, and combined with other allied groups it controlled 34 seats total, a historic high. Prior to 2016, the political wing of the original Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, known as the Islamic Action Front, or IAF, had boycotted the previous two parliamentary elections in 2013 and 2010.

Leading up to the 2016 elections, divisions within the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood over the trajectory of its political approach toward the government (accommodating versus confrontational) led to its splintering into smaller factions.33 Jordanian authorities also contributed to the internal division of Islamists by outlawing the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood for its association with the Brotherhood in Egypt. As a result, IAF-affiliated candidates formed a broad coalition to compete in the elections under the National Coalition for Reform (NCR), which also fielded Christians and women on its slate of candidates and dropped the Brotherhood's infamous slogan, "Islam is the solution," and replaced it with "Reform."

The elections, which witnessed low voter turnout of 37%, saw the NCR list winning 17 out of 130 seats. This was more than any other party list, but observers note that it "only won 11.6% of the vote in the 11 districts in which it competed."34 Of the three other competing Islamist lists, only one of them, the Muslim Brotherhood Society, secured a seat in parliament. The election witnessed 20 women candidates elected to parliament, the most ever in Jordanian history.

Figure 6. Selected Members of the Jordanian Royal Family

Source: Created by CRS. Images derived from various media sources.

The Economy

There is widespread dissatisfaction in Jordan with the state of the economy. With few natural resources and a small industrial base, Jordan's economy is heavily dependent on aid from abroad, tourism, expatriate worker remittances, and the service sector.

Jordan's economy continues to slowly grow at 2% annually, a rate insufficient for lowering unemployment and the national debt. In 2016, the IMF and Jordan reached a new, three-year $723 million extended fund facility (EFF) agreement that commits Jordan to improving the business environment for the private sector, reducing budget expenditures, and reforming the tax code. As a result, Jordan has enacted a new Value Added Tax (VAT) to raise revenue. However, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the government also has raised the minimum wage, slowed its cutback of the state payroll, and expanded welfare payments—all of which add to its fiscal burden.35 The government has taken steps to alleviate its dependence on external sources of hydrocarbons by expanding its domestic renewable energy capacity. Several solar plants are already under construction and, when completed, will comprise up to 10% of the country's total energy mix.

Figure 7. Public Opinion Polling in Jordan

IRI Data on Economy and Syria Refugees (January 30, 2017)

Source: International Republican Institute.

U.S. Foreign Assistance to Jordan

The United States has provided economic and military aid to Jordan since 1951 and 1957, respectively. Total bilateral U.S. aid (overseen by State and DOD) to Jordan through FY2016 amounted to approximately $19.2 billion. With more U.S. aid to Jordan being channeled through the Defense Department's security assistance accounts, Jordan has received $909 million in additional military aid since FY2014.

Table 1. U.S. Foreign Aid Obligations to Jordan: 1946-2016

current U.S. dollars in millions







































































Source: USAID Overseas Loans and Grants, July 1, 1945-September 30, 2015.

Notes: "Other" accounts include economic and military assistance programs administered by USAID, State, and other federal agencies which are funded at less than $2 million annually. It also includes larger, more recent funding through the International Disaster Assistance account (IDA), Millennium Challenge Account, and several defense department funding accounts. It also encapsulates much larger legacy programs (food aid), some of which have been phased out over time.

Three-Year MOU on U.S. Foreign Aid to Jordan

On February 3, 2015, the Obama Administration and the Jordanian government signed a nonbinding, three-year memorandum of understanding (MOU), in which the United States pledges to provide the kingdom with $1 billion annually in total U.S. foreign assistance, subject to the approval of Congress, from FY2015 through FY2017. The new MOU followed a previous five-year agreement in which the United States had pledged to provide a total of $660 million annually from FY2009 through FY2014. During those five years, Congress actually provided Jordan with $4.753 billion in total aid, or $1.453 billion ($290.6 million annually) above what was agreed to in the five-year MOU, including more than $1 billion in FY2014. According to the Department of State,

The United States and Jordan share a commitment to promoting regional security and stability, furthering Jordan's economic development, and advancing social, political, and economic reform in Jordan. The United States recognizes Jordan's increased immediate needs resulting from regional unrest, the efforts Jordan is undertaking at the forefront of the fight against ISIL and other extremist ideology and terrorism, the influx of refugees from Syria and Iraq, the disruption of foreign energy supplies, and other unprecedented strains.36

In the months ahead, Jordanian officials may seek from Congress its support in engaging the Trump Administration in negotiations for a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on U.S. aid to Jordan, which could commit the United States to even higher amounts of aid. According to President Trump's FY2018 budget request to Congress, the Administration is seeking $1 billion in total U.S. aid to Jordan, which is "consistent with the previous FY2015-FY2017 Memorandum of Understanding level of $1.0 billion per year." The FY2018 budget request also would continue FMF grant funding for Jordan, rather than converting FMF grants to loans.

Economic Assistance

The United States provides economic aid to Jordan both as a cash transfer and for USAID programs in Jordan. The Jordanian government uses cash transfers to service its foreign debt. Approximately 40% to 60% of Jordan's ESF allotment may go toward the cash transfer.37 USAID programs in Jordan focus on a variety of sectors including democracy assistance, water preservation, and education (particularly building and renovating public schools). In the democracy sector, U.S. assistance has supported capacity-building programs for the parliament's support offices, the Jordanian Judicial Council, the Judicial Institute, and the Ministry of Justice.

The International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute also have received U.S. grants to train, among other groups, some Jordanian political parties and members of parliament. In the water sector, the bulk of U.S. economic assistance is devoted to optimizing the management of scarce water resources, as Jordan is one of the most water-deprived countries in the world. USAID is currently subsidizing several waste treatment and water distribution projects in the Jordanian cities of Amman, Mafraq, Aqaba, and Irbid.

In FY2016, USAID also provided $100 million in ESF-OCO to support phase one of the Red Sea-Dead Sea project, including funds to support the construction of a seawater desalination plant located in Aqaba, Jordan, on the Red Sea, that will produce water to be shared between Israel and Jordan, and a pipeline to convey brine mixed with seawater to the Dead Sea.

In February 2017, the United States and Jordan signed a new Food for Progress agreement through which the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide Jordan with 50,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat, valued at approximately $9 million, with an additional 50,000 tons to be made available contingent upon market conditions.38

Humanitarian Assistance for Syrian Refugees in Jordan

The U.S. State Department estimates that, since large-scale U.S. aid to Syrian refugees began in FY2012, it has allocated more than $814 million in humanitarian assistance from global accounts to help Jordan cope with the Syrian refugee crisis.39 U.S. aid supports refugees living in camps (20% of all refugees) and those living in towns and cities (80%). According to the State Department, U.S. humanitarian assistance is provided both as cash assistance and through programs to meet basic needs, such as child health care, water, and sanitation. According to USAID, U.S. funds are enabling UNICEF to provide health assistance for Syrian populations sheltering at the informal Rukban and Hadalat settlements along the Syria–Jordan border berm, including daily water trucking, the rehabilitation of a water borehole, and installation of a water treatment unit in Hadalat.40

Loan Guarantees

Since 2013, the Obama Administration provided three loan guarantees to Jordan, totaling $3.75 billion.41 These include the following:

Military Assistance

Foreign Military Financing

U.S.-Jordanian military cooperation is a key component in bilateral relations. U.S. military assistance is primarily directed toward enabling the Jordanian military to procure and maintain conventional weapons systems.43 On February 18, 2016, President Obama signed the United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015 (P.L. 114-123), which authorizes expedited review and an increased value threshold for proposed arms sales to Jordan for a period of three years. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grants to Jordan enable its Air Force to maintain a modest fleet of F-16 fighters and purchase Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM). FMF grants also provide financing for Jordan's purchase of U.S. Blackhawk helicopters in order to enhance Jordan's border monitoring and counterterror capability. In recent years, Jordan also has acquired Javelin missiles, Hellfire missiles, High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, and night-vision devices.44 Recent proposed arms sales notified to Congress include 35 Meter Coastal Patrol Boats; M31 Unitary Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) Rocket Pods; UH-60M VIP Blackhawk helicopter; and repair and return of F-16 engines.45

Excess Defense Articles

In 1996, the United States granted Jordan Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) status, a designation that, among other things, makes Jordan eligible to receive excess U.S. defense articles, training, and loans of equipment for cooperative research and development.46 In the last five years, Jordan has received excess U.S. defense articles, including two C-130 aircraft, HAWK MEI-23E missiles, and cargo trucks.

Defense Department Assistance

As a result of the Syrian civil war and Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS, the United States has increased military aid to Jordan and channeled these increases through Defense Department-managed accounts. Although Jordan still receives the bulk of U.S. military aid from the FMF account, Congress has authorized defense appropriations to strengthen Jordan's border security. Currently, Congress has authorized Jordan to receive funding from three primary accounts: (1) Section 1206/10 U.S.C. 2282 Authority to Build Partner Capacity,47 (2) the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF),48 and (3) Department of Defense Operations & Maintenance Funds (O&M).49 Military aid provided by these accounts is generally coordinated through a joint Defense Department (DOD)-State Department (DOS) review and approved by the Secretary of Defense, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State.

Among congressional notifications of 10 U.S.C. 2282 activities between FY2015 and FY2016, Defense Department assistance to Jordan includes the following:

Table 2. Recent U.S. Foreign Assistance to Jordan, FY2014-FY2017 Request

(in millions of dollars)



FY2015 est.

FY2016 est.

FY2017 est.

State Dept.—ESF (+OCO)





State Dept.—FMF (+OCO)





State Dept.—NADR










DOD O&M (Coalition Support Funds)

147.0 (allocated over 2014-2015)



DOD—1206/2282 (CTPF)













Source: U.S. State and Defense Departments.

Author Contact Information

[author name scrubbed], Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])



"King Abdullah: Compromise with Russia on Crimea to get its help in Syria," Washington Post, April 6, 2017.


"Arab Leaders Denounce 'Foreign Interference,'" Agence France Presse, March 29, 2017.


The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, "Remarks by President Trump and His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan in Joint Press Conference," April 5, 2017.


Total U.S. foreign aid (from both the State and Defense Departments) to Jordan was $1.5 billion in FY2015 and $1.6 billion in FY2016.


"Fathers of Slain Green Berets Accuse Jordanian of Murder,", March 7, 2017.


"Jordan says Guard who killed three U.S. soldiers did not Follow Rules of Engagement," Washington Post, April 13, 2017.


"Jordan begins covert operations against IS in Syria," Middle East Eye, March 25, 2016.


In November 2015, five people, including two American police trainers, were killed at the Jordan International Police Training Centre (JIPTC) by a Jordanian police officer who fired on them before he was shot to death.


"Killing of U.S. Soldiers in Jordan Called Deliberate," Washington Post, November 22, 2016.


On December 23, 2016, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert, warning all U.S. citizens of threats from terrorist groups throughout Jordan and to consider the risks of travel to and throughout the country. The warning also noted that "all U.S. government personnel on official travel must receive prior permission to visit any area within 10 km from the Jordan-Syria border, which includes the town of Ramtha.... U.S. government employees on personal travel are not permitted to visit the border areas or refugee camps, and the embassy advises U.S. citizens to avoid both." See


"Against ISIS, Jordan has a Big Gun: Social Cohesion," Christian Science Monitor, December 21, 2016.


The Golan Heights is administered by Israel but is considered to be occupied Syrian territory by most international actors.


"Extremist expansion in southern Syria puts Jordan on guard," Al Monitor, March 13, 2017.


"Jordan Drones hit IS Arms Depot, Barracks in Southern Syria," Associated Press, February 4, 2017.


"Why Southern Syria remains Jordan's biggest Security Threat," Al Monitor, May 17, 2017.


"Syrian Army 'sends reinforcements towards border with Jordan, Iraq,'" Reuters, May 15, 2017.


Fabrice Balanche, "Growing Risk of International Confrontation in the Syrian Desert,"

PolicyWatch 2811, The Washington Institute, May 26, 2017.


"Will Jordan confront IS in southern Syria?," Al Monitor, April 18, 2017.


"Palestinian cause was Highlight of US visit, King Says," Jordan Times, April 26, 2017.


The White House, Letter From The President- Supplemental 6-month War Powers Letter, December 5, 2016.


Open Source Center, "His Majesty's Interview with Addustour Newspaper," Document ID# LIR2016081574765426, Al-Ghadd Online in English, August 15, 2016.


"Country Update: Jordan," Jane's Defence Weekly, March 22, 2017.


Though there was very little international recognition of Jordan's annexation of the West Bank, Jordan maintained control of it (including East Jerusalem) until Israel took military control of it during the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and maintained its claim to it until relinquishing the claim to the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1988.


Speculation over the ratio of East Bankers to Palestinians (those who arrived as refugees and immigrants since 1948) in Jordanian society tends to be a sensitive domestic issue. Jordan last conducted a national census in 2004, and it is unclear whether or not the government maintains such statistics. Over time, intermarriage has made it more difficult to discern distinct differences between the two communities, though divisions do persist.


In July 2009, King Abdullah II named Prince Hussein (then 15 years old), as crown prince. The position had been vacant since 2004, when King Abdullah II removed the title from his half-brother, Prince Hamzah.


The king also may declare martial law. According to Article 125, "In the event of an emergency of such a serious nature that action under the preceding Article of the present Constitution will be considered insufficient for the defense of the Kingdom, the King may by a Royal Decree, based on a decision of the Council of Ministers, declare martial law in the whole or any part of the Kingdom."


New amendments to Article 94 in 2011 have put some restrictions on when the executive is allowed to issue temporary laws.


"Pro-reform Group Criticizes Arrests in Amman," Al, January 16, 2017.


Open Source Center, "Jordan: Veterans Group Critical of Regime, Urges Curbing Authority of King," Document ID#LIR2017011853671932, Media Note, January 18, 2017.


See "Making Our Democratic System Work for All Jordanians," Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein, January 16, 2013, available online at


"How Jordan's Election Revealed Enduring Weaknesses in Its Political System," Washington Post, October 3, 2016.


In order to legitimize Jordanian parliamentary elections in the eyes of the West, Jordan is eager to have opposition participation.


Out of the original Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, there are now at least four offshoot political groups: The Muslim Brotherhood Society (officially licensed by the government), the Zamzam Initiative (liberal), the Muslim Center Party (al Wasat), and the Muslim Brotherhood Group/IAF (holdovers from the original parent organization and unlicensed who ran under the NCR coalition).


Kirk H. Sowell, "Takeaways from Jordan's Elections," Sada, Middle East Analysis from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 30, 2016.


Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Report – Jordan, Generated on May 19, 2017.


U.S. Department of State, "The United States and Jordan Sign a Memorandum of Understanding on U.S. Assistance," Office of the Spokesperson, February 3, 2015.


In 2016, the United States provided $470 million in ESF to Jordan as a cash transfer (59% of the total ESF allocation for Jordan).


U.S. Food for Progress Program Supports Agricultural Development in Jordan, U.S. Mission Jordan, February, 2, 2017.


Fact Sheets: U.S. Humanitarian Assistance in Response to the Syrian Crisis , September 27, 2016.


USAID, "Syria Complex Emergency - Fact Sheet #4," April 27, 2017.


Congress initially authorized additional economic assistance to Jordan in Section 7041 of P.L. 112-74, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012. P.L. 113-6, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013 specified that such assistance should take the form of a loan guarantee. Section 1706 (j) of the same act also appropriated $30 million (from FY2011) for the initial cost of sovereign loan guarantees. Congress reauthorized loan guarantees for Jordan in Section 7034(r)(1) of P.L. 113-235 (Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015). P.L. 114-113, the FY2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act, once again reauthorized loan guarantees to Jordan.


Op. cit., Congressional Notification #74.


According to Jane's Defense, Jordan's 2016 defense budget was $1.827 billion. See Jane's Defence Budgets, Jordan, November 21, 2016.


Information provided by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, January 2014.


Information provided by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, May 2016.


See Designation of Jordan As Major Non-NATO Ally, Determination of President of the United States, No. 97–4, November 12, 1996, 61 F.R. 59809.


Section 1205 of P.L. 113-291, the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act, permits the transfer of other appropriated funds (such as CTPF monies) to conduct programs under 10 U.S.C. 2282 authority.


Section 9012 of P.L. 114-113, the FY2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act, specifies that "up to $600,000,000 of funds appropriated by this Act for the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund may be used to provide assistance to the Government of Jordan to support the armed forces of Jordan and to enhance security along its borders." Section 1226 of P.L. 114-92, the National Defense Authorization Act FY2016, authorized FY2016 CTPF funds "pursuant to section 1534 of the Carl Levin and Howard P. 'Buck' McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015 (P.L. 113-291; 128 Stat. 3616)."


Section 1207 of P.L. 113-66, the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), originally authorized the Secretary of Defense to provide up to $150 million in "assistance on a reimbursement basis to the Government of Jordan for purposes of supporting and maintaining efforts of the armed forces of Jordan to increase security and sustain increased security along the border between Jordan and Syria." The FY2015 Omnibus, P.L. 113-235, permits the Secretary of Defense to provide Jordan with Defense Department Operation and Maintenance (O&M) OCO funds to "reimburse the government of Jordan in such amounts as the Secretary of Defense may determine to maintain the ability of the Jordanian armed forces to maintain security along the border between Jordan and Syria." Section 1226 of P.L. 114-92, the National Defense Authorization Act FY2016, authorized funds available for reimbursement of certain coalition nations for support provided to United States military operations pursuant to Section 1233 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2008 (P.L. 110-181; 122 Stat. 393). P.L. 114-113, the FY2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act, specifies that funds from Operation and Maintenance, Defense-Wide "may be used to support the Governments of Jordan and Lebanon, in such amounts as the Secretary of Defense may determine, to enhance the ability of the armed forces of Jordan to increase or sustain security along its borders and the ability of the armed forces of Lebanon to increase or sustain security along its borders, upon 15 days prior written notification to the congressional defense committees outlining the amounts intended to be provided and the nature of the expenses incurred."


$1 million originally notified for this program was subsequently reprogrammed to a Kenya security cooperation activity.