US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Barbara A. Leaf is in the midst of a Middle East trip, as the US is shoring up its influence and support for key areas in the region. The trip began on Saturday and is due to end on Friday. The State Department said she will discuss a range of US priorities in the region, including “promoting economic cooperation and discussing security challenges.”
According to Jordanian state media Petra, Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Tawfiq Kreisha and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi met with Leaf over the weekend. The report said “the meeting covered ways to enhance bilateral ties and regional and international issues of common interest.”
The US said Leaf began her trip in Jordan. She met with Jordanian Prime Minister and Defense Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh “to discuss areas of bilateral cooperation, economic reform, and ways to expand the strategic US-Jordan partnership.”
In Iraq, she is scheduled to meet with government officials and to reaffirm US commitment there. She will travel to Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan autonomous region. The State Department said that “in both Baghdad and Erbil, the assistant secretary will focus on advancing our 360-degree partnership with the government and people of Iraq.”
US concerns for Syria, Iraq
The US has been concerned about regional trends toward normalization with the Syrian regime, as Jordan is hosting a meeting of officials from Arab states and Syria this week. According to Asharq al-Awsat, the London-based Arabic newspaper, Leaf recently said normalization should not take place “in the absence of permanent political change.”
Washington’s stance is that it opposes normalization unless the Assad regime changes, but considering the way the Assad regime is being welcomed around the region and how it is hosting the Iranian leader this week, as well as working with Moscow, it has no incentive to change. At the same time, the US faces pressure in Iraq and Syria and Iranian threats.