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Jordan's King Promises Justice for Murdered Pilot

Josh Rogin is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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Just hours after Islamic State released a video purporting to show the brutal burning of a Jordanian pilot in its custody, Jordan’s King Abdullah made the rounds on Capitol Hill, promising that Jordan would unify after the tragedy and pledging a swift response to the killing. 

The king and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh had been scheduled to stay in Washington and meet with President Barack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, but moved forward their departure following Islamic State’s release of the video of Moath al-Kasassbeh, the pilot captured in Syria last month. Jordanian officials confirmed to me that Abdullah will meet with Obama at the White House at 6:00 P.M. tonight, where both leaders will make short statements but not take questions.

Tuesday afternoon, the king kept his appointments with lawmakers, including meetings with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Appropriations Committees. Lawmakers were tight-lipped about the private sessions, but said the Jordanian government, while not completely certain, strongly believes that IS  killed the pilot about one month ago, well before the negotiations began over an exchange for convicted terrorist Sajida al-Rishawi. Jordanian State TV said Tuesday the murder took place on Jan. 3, thus IS was lying in its threats to kill him.

The king, in his one-hour-plus meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee members, promised that Jordan would strike back.

“They are even more determined to deal with ISIS. I think you are going to see the results of that very soon,” chairman Bob Corker told me after the meeting. “We talked a lot about the reaction inside Jordan. I got the impression that there is much greater unity there than has been reported. Maybe what’s occurred, even if there was any disunity, could create greater unity.”

Corker said Abullah did not ask for any specific assistance from the U.S., but did call on the U.S. to support greater participation of other Arab countries in the fight against IS.

“He’s anxious to move these coalition discussions along among the Arab countries and understands this has got to be an Arab-led effort,” Corker said. “[The meeting] did not center around us redoubling our efforts with them, it centered around the regional input into what is happening. There’s an anxiousness to build on that coalition.”

The White House said Tuesday that the U.S. intelligence community was working to confirm the authenticity of the video.  Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement that intelligence officials were also trying to put a date on the murder.

“If authentic, the video is only the latest proof of the depravity of this death cult, which has nothing to offer humanity and which must be stopped,” he said. “We are also trying to determine when the video was made, and whether the negotiations over the pilot's release were merely a cynical propaganda ploy by the terrorist organization.”

The King’s meeting with the Senate Appropriations Committee was expected to cover the memorandum of understanding signed by Judeh and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday morning at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington. The agreement could provide Jordan with an additional $3 billion in U.S. assistance, but Congress would need to appropriate the funds.

“But in this time of peril, the renewal of the MOU for another three years at a billion dollars a year is testament to the strength of our bilateral relationship, our shared values, as well as our joint, unwavering commitment to peace and security,” Judeh said. “It will also help us cope with the burdens not only resulting from regional instability, but in particular ... the humanitarian spillover of the Syrian crisis.”

Jordan now is coping with 800,000 refugees from the Syria crisis as well as 700,000 “economic migrants,” he added. I reported last week that Jordan is also set to be the first staging ground for Obama’s $500 million program to train and equip a new Syrian rebel army.

President Obama made a short statement Tuesday at the White House after learning about the video. “It’s just one more indication of the viciousness and barbarity of this organization. It will redouble the vigilance and determination on the part of a global coalition that they be degraded and ultimately defeated,” Obama said. “And it also indicates the degree to which, whatever ideology they are operating off of, it’s bankrupt.”

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Josh Rogin at joshrogin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net