March 29, 2023 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1683

Following Renewal Of Saudi-Iranian Relations, Debate In Jordanian Press Over Whether Jordan Should Also Reconcile With Iran

March 29, 2023 | By Z. Harel*
Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1683


The agreement signed on March 10, 2023 between Saudi Arabia and Iran to renew their relations after a seven-year hiatus[1]sparked a debate in Jordan about the implications of this agreement for the kingdom's own relations with Iran, and regarding the option of following Saudi Arabia's example.

The diplomatic relations between Jordan and Iran have been kept at a low level for several years. In April 2016 Jordan recalled its ambassador from Iran over the Iran's "intervention in the internal affairs of Arab countries, especially of the Gulf states."[2] This was a gesture of solidarity with Jordan's ally Saudi Arabia, whose embassy in Tehran had been attacked and torched by Iranian rioters three months earlier.[3] The Gulf countries themselves also recalled their ambassadors from Iran following this incident. In early 2019 the last Iranian ambassador to Jordan, Mojtaba Ferdosipour, finished his term in office, and Jordan refused to receive a new Iranian ambassador.[4] 

However, despite this, and despite Jordan's membership in the pro-Saudi camp, which took a stern line vis-à-vis Iran, Amman's relations with Tehran were never severed completely. The embassies continued to function at the level of deputy ambassadors, and mutual visits by officials continued. For example, in February 2017 a delegation of Jordanian MPs, headed by then parliamentary speaker 'Atef Al-Tarawneh, visited Tehran and met with its president at the time, Hassan Rohani, on the sidelines of the International Conference on Supporting the Palestinian Intifada.[5]In December 2022, Jordan's King Abdullah II met with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on the sidelines of an international conference on Iraq, held in Jordan.[6] 

At the same time, Jordan took a cautious position vis-à-vis Iran over the years, due to the threats posed to it by this country. King Abdullah warned about Iran's efforts to spread in the region and create a territorial continuum extending from Iran to Lebanon, which he referred to in 2004 as "the Shi'ite Crescent."[7]The civil war in Syria and Iran's growing involvement there exacerbated Jordan's concerns about Iran and about the presence of pro-Iranian militias on the Syria-Jordan border, which the kingdom regards as a grave strategic threat.[8] Moreover, in the past few years these militias have been involved in attempts to smuggle drugs and weapons from Syria into Jordan.[9]

Furthermore, Iran has for years been torpedoing the implementation of economic agreements between Jordan and its neighbor Iraq, including the project to build an oil pipeline from Basra to Aqaba. Many reports indicate that Shi'ite and pro-Iranian Iraqi elements have repeatedly clarified to the Jordanians that realizing Jordan's economic interests in Iraq depends on Jordan's warming its relations with Iran and returning its ambassador to Tehran.[10] For years, Iran has also been expressing an interest in promoting religious tourism to Shi'ite pilgrimage sites in Jordan, and has even offered Jordan incentives in return, such as oil at a reduced price and the construction of an airport.[11] However, Jordan has refused, fearing this would give Iran a foothold in its territory.  

In the summer of 2022, the Arab press reported that indirect talks were underway between Jordan and Iran, brokered by Iraq, in an attempt to reduce the tension between the two countries. These talks were held against the backdrop of the July 16, 2022 Jeddah Summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and the leaders of nine Arab countries, including Jordan, which, according to media reports, was meant to establish an Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran. In response to these reports, Jordanian officials made statements to appease Iran, and articles in the Jordanian press called on the kingdom to avoid joining such an alliance, and even urged it to warm its relations with Iran.[12] 

Although Jordan was not informed in advance about the Saudi-Iran agreement to renew the relations between them,[13] the Jordanian foreign ministry welcomed this agreement and expressed hope that it "would contribute to enhancing security and stability in the region in a way that preserves the sovereignty of states while avoiding interference in their internal affairs."[14]

The agreement, which came as a surprise to Jordan's political and media elites, sparked calls to reassess the kingdom's own relations with Iran. According to a report in the online daily, many Jordanians feel that the decision-makers in the country give too much weight to the alliance with Saudi Arabia and to attempts to appease it and to pander to it even at the expense of Jordan's interests.[15] The daily also reported that Jordan had established a crisis-handling team of experts, which has already commenced deliberations on how to deal with the implications of the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran.[16] Furthermore, Raialyoum recently reported that Iraqi Shi'ite elements are promoting contacts with the aim of mediating between Jordan and Iran and holding a security discourse between them, in the hope of renewing their diplomatic relations and the exchange of ambassadors.[17]

The discourse on the need to improve the relations with Iran also found expression in the Jordanian press. Several columnists urged the authorities to reexamine these relations and draw closer to Iran, and even to appoint an ambassador in Tehran. Conversely, other writers warned against warming the relations too quickly, and called to take measured steps, based on Jordan's interests, and to wait for Iran to prove its good intentions and stop threatening the kingdom.

Flags of Jordan (left) and Iran (Source:, July 12, 2022)

This report presents the debate in the Jordanian press on the issue of warming relations with Iran.

Jordanian Journalists Call For Rapprochement With Iran: This Is "A Vital Interest" And "The Order Of The Day"

As stated, some articles in the Jordanian press regarded the Saudi-Iran agreement as an opportunity for Jordan to draw closer to Iran and return its ambassador to Tehran. They argued that this would help Jordan further its interests, including that of securing the border with Syria, and called it "a vital interest that must not be delayed" and "the order of the day."

Jordanian Journalist: Jordan Must Base Its Policy Towards Iran On Its Interests, Not On Considerations Of Pleasing Saudi Arabia

In an article he posted on the website, Jordanian journalist Muhammad Hassan Al-Tal, formerly the board chairman of the state daily Al-Rai and the editor of the Al-Dustour daily, called to base Jordan's foreign relations primarily on its interests and to consider renewing the relations with Iran. He wrote: "What interests us in Jordan is the implications that the [Saudi-Iran] agreement will have on the political situation in the region. When the crisis between Riyadh and Tehran broke out, Amman was courteous towards Riyadh: it recalled its ambassador from Tehran and froze its relations with Iran even further.  Perhaps Jordan can now reconsider its diplomatic relations with Tehran, in light of the new situation and [Iran's] reconciliation with Riyadh? Or will Jordan's sensitivities regarding normalizing its relations [with Iran] persist, even though it knows that Tehran is constantly trying to normalize its relations with Amman and is making efforts to achieve this?   

"Jordanian diplomacy has often been courteous towards [various] elements at the expense of others, and we must be honest [and admit] that, in many cases, we gained nothing by this courteousness... What we need now is for the Jordanian foreign ministry to try to prefer Jordan's interests to [considerations of] courteousness, because it has become clear that the political rules of play in the world have changed, and are now based on interests more than anything else.  Moreover, states have started to diversify their alliances, in order to actualize as many of their interests as possible."[18] 

Jordanian Journalist: Rapprochement With Iran A Vital Jordanian Interest That Can No Longer To Put Off

In a column in the state daily Al-Rai headlined "Saudi Arabia Did It; What Are We Doing?", Jordanian journalist 'Omar Kallab wrote: "This step [i.e., the Saudi-Iran agreement] relieves the Jordanian diplomacy of a great burden. First of all, it lends considerable support and backing to the Jordanian program for resolving the crisis in Syria[19]... and the roads to [this initiative] are less blocked... [This agreement] may also ease the pressure in Jordan [to avoid] openness towards Iran, [openness] that must be quickly achieved on the diplomatic level, and the political level will follow. Because the tension with Iran causes us to have problems with the neighboring countries as well. Moreover, our issues with Iran are more complex than with any other country. Hence, we should take this opportunity to quickly and seriously warm our relations with Iran again, for this is a vital Jordanian interest that can no longer be delayed, perhaps."[20]

Jordanian Journalist: Rapprochement With Iran Is Clearly The Order Of The Day

In column titled "Has the Amman-Tehran Road Opened to Traffic?" in the daily Al-Dustour, Jordanian Journalist Hussein Al-Rawashdeh argued that relations with Iran will benefit Jordan and called to return the ambassadors to Amman and Tehran. He wrote: "The agreement that was signed by Riyadh and Tehran with Chinese mediation, or more accurately, the great turnaround [they made] by renewing their diplomatic relations... laid the foundations for a new era of alliances, settlements and conflict resolution in our region, shattering the myth of 'Iran, the greatest satan' or 'Iran, the Arab's alternative enemy'...   

"Will these new variables cause Amman to extend a hand to Tehran again, or to maintain balanced relations with it – if not in order to respond to Israel and deter it, then in order to [maintain] balanced and diversified relations that will serve the [Jordanian] interest before anything else?... I do not rule this out, since Jordan is eying the understandings with Baghdad about laying the Basra-Aqaba [oil] pipeline, and the economic cooperation memoranda, for example, which will not be easily realized without Tehran's blessing... Moreover, in light of the Jordanian initiative for returning Syria to the path of stability and a political solution, and in light of the growing Iranian influence in southern Syria – [evident in] drug trafficking and terror, for example – Jordan may discover that it has no choice but to open the door to coordination and cooperation with Tehran, first of all in order to secure its borders, but also in order to ensure the success of a possible renewal of the relations with Damascus in the future. 

"In spite of all that, I understand that there are other considerations, external and internal, which might cause Amman to be reluctant to normalize relations with Tehran at this time. But that does not prevent us from thinking about 'warming' the relations between the sides, at least by returning the ambassadors, which I consider a likely move that does not carry a political cost or present any difficulty. In fact, I do not hesitate to say that this diplomatic move is vital and necessary."[21]

In his March 21 column, Al-Rawashdeh stated: "Despite all the clear indications of Iranian intervention in the region, the attempt to demonize Tehran and create hostilty between it and its Arab surroundings – while treating it only as a historic enemy, rival and threat even [seeing it only] in the sectarian Shi'ite framework – is a mistake that should be reexamined... The option of mutual understanding and of an Arab and Jordanian rapprochement with Tehran, following the path that Saudi Arabia has taken and that Jordan may take in the future, based on careful, prudent and gradual [action], certainly seems to be the order of the day..."[22]   

Other Jordanian Writers: Before We Renew Relations With Iran It Must Prove Its Good Intentions, Stop Threatening Us

Alongside the press articles that called for rapprochement with Iran, others expressed reservations and called to avoid making a hasty turnaround in Jordan's position on Iran. They urged Jordan to observe Iran's relations with Saudi Arabia, in order to gauge its committment to the rapproachement and ensure that  Iran and its allies are no longer threatening Jordan.

Former Information Minister: Jordan Will Not Rush To Reverse Its Position On Iran

On March 14, 2023, in his column in the Jordanian Al-Ghad daily, Samih Al-Ma'aita asserted that Jordan will not be taking any political steps towards Iran as long as Iran and its allies continue to threaten the interests of the kingdom. He wrote, "Following the Saudi-Iran understandings, Jordan will not necessarily hasten to take outstanding steps towards Iran and to reverse the direction it has taken in its relations with Tehran in the past decades, as some believe. The understandings between Iran and Saudi Arabia are very important on the regional level, but that doesn't mean that all the countries must make a U-turn in their relations with Iran. This is because Iran persists in its policy towards the countries of the region, including Saudi Arabia, and any decision [in the matter] depends on its implementation [of the agreement with Saudi Arabia]...

"Jordan's problem with Iran [comprises] several issues, the most important of which are the following three: First, Iran's attempts to penetrate the Jordanian arena on the security level in many ways and under various slogans and code names, including the so-called religious tourism, which, we saw in neighboring countries, constitutes an opportunity to gain a foothold for Shi'ization and for the Revolutionary Guards [IRGC]. The second issue is Iran's interference in Arab arenas and the damage it causes to the affairs of numerous Arab countries... And the third issue is the drug war waged by the militias affiliated with and loyal to Iran against Jordan over the Jordan-Syria border... with the objective of flooding Jordan with drugs and smuggling them [also] to neighboring countries.

"Iran knows what Jordan wants and understands full well that Jordan is eager to establish positive relations with it. But [Jordan] is very cautious, because it knows very well how Iran thinks and because it possesses information supported by documents on every attempt to penetrate the Jordanian arena, whether by Iran itself or by its militias in the region. Jordan will not take any political step regarding Iran following the Saudi-Iran agreement, and it won't overturn the equation of its regional [relations]. If these understandings succeed in shaping a new Iranian policy towards the Arab world, based on neighborliness and a cessation of the IRGC's exportation [of the Iranian Revolution], Jordan will certainly develop neighborly relations with Iran. The ball is still in Iran's court.

"Iran must prove its good intentions towards Jordan, and the first step is stopping the sectarian drug war [i.e., the smuggling of drugs by the Iran-backed Shi'ite militias] via Syria. Smooth words and talks that yield no results will not change the reality one whit, even if dozens of agreements are signed with countries in the region."[23]

Jordanian Journalist: The Region Is Undergoing A Reversal; Jordan Must Be Cautious And Restrained

In his March 16, 2023 column in the Al-Ghad daily, titled "Will Jordan Rush into Iran's Arms?", Jordanian journalist Maher Abu Tir analyzed the complexity of the relations between Jordan and Iran and determined that, even if the decision is made to return the Jordanian ambassador to Tehran, it will not reflect a fundamental change in the relations. He assessed that Jordan will not rush to renew its relations with Iran, but will act slowly, while observing the developments between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

He wrote: "I do not believe that Jordan will rush into Iran's arms, and this for many reasons. These words are said in reaction to the tremendous wave of political responses in Jordan [to the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia] that urge good relations with Iran. In drawing my conclusion, I do not mean to incite against Iran or oppose the renewal of relations with it, for Jordan is indeed likely to return its ambassador to Tehran sometime soon. I am talking about fast progress [towards rapprochement with Iran], and there are those who are spurring us to it. But we haven't seen anything like this in the past decades, so why should it happen at this particular time?

"The return of the [Jordanian] ambassador [to Tehran], if it does occur, is no measure [of Jordan's position vis-a-vis Iran], because Jordan has had ambassadors in Iran in the past, and some of them were appointed as ambassadors to Tehran yet didn't work [there], but instead stayed here and worked from their office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This means that the criterion of returning or not returning the ambassador [to Tehran] is not the sole criterion by which to judge Jordan's position [on Iran].

"The call to reconcile with the Iranians, and the call for the Iranians to reconcile with the region, is an old-new call. However, the complexities we face – involving issues like the Iranian expansion into the countries of the region; [Iran's] ballistic weapons; the nuclear weapons issue and its implications; the fickleness of the positions of the American administration and the potential outcomes of the next election in the U.S.; alongside strategic considerations related to whether the changes in Iran's position are [really] profound and not just formal – all these [considerations] play a role in suspending any attempts to take hasty steps, as some people are advocating and demanding...

"[At the same time,] Jordan understands that its openness to Iraq and Syria is related to Iran's position towards it, and that it is delusional to think that the relations with Baghdad and Damascus are disconnected from the relations with Tehran. This means that Jordan faces [only one] specific choice, namely slow progress [in its relations with Iran] while following the events and seeing whether Iran has really changed its policy or not. This also applies to the [other] Arab arenas through which Jordan gauges Tehran's position towards it. This affair affects the entire region, not only the direct, bilateral relations [between Iran and Jordan]...

"If we analyze the situation, the region is undergoing a dramatic reversal. In this region, even those who possess exclusive and accurate information cannot know what will happen today or tomorrow. In the Middle East we go to sleep with one situation and wake up to another, completely different, situation. This may explain why official Amman chooses to demonstrate restraint in this instance.

"Some politicians claim that Jordan is part of the Arab coalition [headed by Saudi Arabia], which [in the past] took a stand against Iran and recalled its ambassadors from it, [but which has now] renewed its relations with Iran – so why should Jordan remain alone on the sidelines, and not follow the positions of its Arab allies, as it did on various occasions [in the past]? [But] some [of these] commentators forget that the new alignment of Arab-Iranian relations is still being tested and is subject to regional and international considerations, not only local ones. Besides, the most Jordan can do is to return its ambassador to Tehran in accordance with protocol, but this will have no significance in terms of warming [the relations] or a turnaround in bilateral relations...

"[Jordanian] relations with Iran mean maintaining relations with a group of countries [via relations with] one country. [The relations with Iran] impact the relations with Iraq and Syria, [the position on] the events in Lebanon and in Yemen, the security threats that continue to arise on the Jordan-Syria border, involving weapons and drugs, and the presence of the militias that play a role inside Syria and arouse sensitivities here. And let us not forget the bilateral relations between Iran and Russia and their significance for Washington, of which Jordan is an ally for many reasons."[24]

* Z. Harel is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.


[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 10522, In Saudi Press, Cautious Optimism Follows Saudi-Iranian Renewal Of Relations, March 13, 2023.

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 18, 2016. It should be mentioned that the Jordanian ambassador to Iran continued to perform his duties from Amman for two years, but in June 2018 he was transferred to another position and no new ambassador was appointed in his place. This was seen as a gesture of gratitude to Saudi Arabia, after on June 10 the Saudi king convened the leaders of Jordan, Kuwait and the UAE in Mecca and announced a new $2.5 bn Gulf aid package to Jordan to alleviate the economic crisis there and quell the riots that had broken out as a result of it. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 18, 2018.

[4], February 14, 2019.

[5] Al-Ghad (Jordan), February 23, 2017.

[6] Al-Ghad (Jordan), December 21, 2022.

[7], December 8, 2004.

[8] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1359 - Concern In Jordan Over Pro-Iranian Forces On Border – November 16, 2017.

[10] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), November 6, 2017, August 31, 2018, November 23, 2019;, March 11, 2023.

[11] Al-Ghad (Jordan), July 4, 2021.

[13], March 12, 2023.

[14], March 11, 2023.

[15], March 11, 12, 2023.

[16], March 16, 2023.

[17], March 28, 2023.

[18], March 11, 2023.

[19] Since 2021 the Jordanian king has been promoting an Arab initiative aimed at reabilitating the Syrian regime through a policy of "measure for measure." The goal is to gradually affect a change in this regime's behavior in return for incentives that also improve conditions for the Syrian people and facilitate  the return of the Syrian refugees. The initiative focuses on fighting terror and curbing Iran's growing influence in Syria. The reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran is accompanied by efforts to improve the former's ties with Syria as well, which may promote this Jordanian-led Arab initiative. See MEMRI reports: Inquiry and Analysis No. 1602, Jordan, With U.S. Consent, Spearheads Efforts To Return Syrian Regime To Arab Fold, October 19, 2021; Inquiry & Analysis No. 1682, Following Earthquake In Syria, Arab Rapprochement With Assad Regime Gains Momentum: 'A Consensus Is Forming That Isolating Syria Is No Longer Helpful,' March 9, 2023.

[20] Al-Rai (Jordan), March 12, 2023.

[21] Al-Dustour (Jordan), March 12, 2023.

[22] Al-Dustour (Jordan), March 21, 2023.

[23] Al-Ghad, (Jordan), March 14, 2023.

[24] Al-Ghad, (Jordan), March 15, 2023.

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