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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 01:19 GMT 02:19 UK

World: Middle East

King Abdullah goes West

King Abdullah was heir to the throne for just a few days, unlike some

King Abdullah of Jordan is making his first visit to the West since the death of his father, Hussein, brought him to the throne in February.

The BBC's Kate Clark: Personal ties and hard economics bring king to UK
The king has appeared keen to make the most of the tremendous wave of sympathy shown towards Jordan at his father's funeral.

On Tuesday he met UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook and Prince Charles. He lunches with Queen Elizabeth on Wednesday.

[ image: Windswept Queen Rania is accompanying her husband]
Windswept Queen Rania is accompanying her husband
The king has made it clear that the main aim of his trip is to ask western countries to cancel up to half of Jordan's $7bn of foreign debt.

He is due to fly to Canada on Thursday, where he will spend the weekend. Next Tuesday he will be in the United States where he has a crucial meeting with US President Bill Clinton.

The six-country tour also includes Germany, France and Italy.


Up to one-third of Jordanians live below the poverty line, and the king recently told journalists that the outright cancellation of debt, rather than rescheduling it, was the key to relieving his country's predicament.

But a BBC Arabic Service analyst, John King, says the indications are, that though there is a lot of sympathy for Jordan, the king may not be fully successful in his mission.

[ image: Germany's Parliamentary President Thierse shows off the new Reichstag dome]
Germany's Parliamentary President Thierse shows off the new Reichstag dome
Most of Jordan's debt is owed in Europe - especially in France - and in Japan, to which Jordan owes $1.8bn.

But decisions have not so far been made by G7 leading industrialised countries about debt cancellation for Jordan.

The late UK foreign office minister, Derek Fatchett, who was in Jordan just last month, said that EU countries were ready to help Jordan - but the minister spoke of rescheduling the debt, not of forgiveness.

Meanwhile diplomats in Washington are thought to believe the $3.5bn of debt relief Jordan is seeking is a very optimistic figure.

Three month's reign

Up until now, King Abdullah has been focusing on ties with the Arab world, and has succeeded in mending fences with Syria and the Gulf countries.

Jordan fell out with some rulers in the Gulf for not joining the coalition which expelled Iraq from Kuwait after the invasion of 1990.

Jordan's relations with the UK and other western countries are already good, and officials in London said this visit would only re-inforce the relationship.

But as a relatively unknown quantity before being handed the succession shortly before he became king, Western officials will be glad of the opportunity of meeting Abdullah under less fraught circumstances than the aftermath of his father's death.

For King Abdullah, there are also personal ties - his mother is English and he was educated in London and at the military academy at Sandhurst.

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