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Jordan names new envoy to Qatar, two years after downgrading ties


By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan appointed a new ambassador to Qatar on Tuesday, a step toward restoring normal relations two years after Amman withdrew its ambassador in solidarity with Gulf Arab allies who severed ties with Doha.

Amman downgraded its diplomatic representation in June 2017, a few days after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain scrapped all ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants, which Doha denies.

Zeid al-Lawzi, a senior Jordanian career diplomat and secretary general of the Foreign Ministry, was named as the new ambassador, according to a royal decree.

The government also said it had accepted Qatar's nomination of Sheikh Saud bin Nasser bin Jasem al Thani, a member of Doha's royal family, as ambassador to Amman.

Jordanian officials denied the rapprochement with Qatar amounted to a snub of Saudi Arabia, Amman's traditional, heavyweight Gulf patron. But diplomats said the timing of the move could reflect divergent views of U.S. President Donald Trump's approach to settling the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Jordan has traditionally turned to Arab monarchies in the Gulf to shore up its economy. However, Gulf Arabs have shifted their foreign policy focus to their rivalry with Iran, cutting financial support for Amman.

Amman feels Gulf Arabs' dependence on Washington to confront Iran makes them hesitant to challenge Washington's possible jettisoning of a Palestinian state under any future peace plan.

Jordan cites last month's conference in the Gulf state of Bahrain where U.S. officials laid out their economic vision for peace, making no mention of a "two-state solution". Amman, which has the longest Arab border with Israel, says a solution involving a Palestinian state co-existing alongside Israel is crucial to any lasting peace in the region.

QATARI OVERTURES

The resumption of normal ties with Qatar followed overtures from Doha, the latest when Qatar's deputy premier and minister of state for defense affairs, Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah, visited Amman in April and signed military cooperation accords.

Qatar last summer extended a $500 million aid package to Jordan only days after its Gulf adversaries pledged $2.5 billion to help Jordan overcome an economic crisis after a wave of rare anti-government protests.

Wealthy Qatar has in recent months opened up more jobs for Jordanian expatriates as part of the aid package, which includes project finance and job generating investments.

Qatar, which has a large stake in Jordan's second largest bank, has also pledged to pump hundreds of millions of dollars in coming years in what diplomats say is an attempt to drive a wedge between Amman and Saudi Arabia.

Jordanian officials have voiced private dismay that aid extended by Saudi Arabia, among Jordan's main donors, has in recent years fallen short of the levels it once delivered to the cash-strapped Jordanian economy, which unlike Gulf Arab states lacks oil reserves.

Some Jordanians say Saudi Arabia reneged on pledges to spend billions of dollars on crucial infrastructure projects that would soften the impact of tough IMF-guided austerity measures.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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