Joint Chiefs chairman to reassure Jordan, Israel

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WASHINGTON (AP) — As Egypt’s army led a hoped-for drive to democracy, President Obama sent his senior military adviser to the Mideast to reassure allies Jordan, also facing rumblings of civil unrest, and Israel, which sees its security at stake in a wider Arab world transformation.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, planned meetings Sunday with King Abdullah II and other senior officials in Jordan, the scene of weeks of protests inspired by unrest in Tunisia and Egypt.

Mullen’s schedule for Israel included talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Mullen had no plans to visit Egypt.

Israel is deeply worried about the prospect that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster could lead to a government less friendly to the Jewish state.

Israel and Egypt fought four wars before a peace treaty in 1979. Mubarak, who gave up power Friday after 30 years of rule, steadfastly honored the peace deal after succeeding Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated by Egyptian extremists two years after signing that agreement.

Netanyahu has warned that any new government in Cairo must maintain thedeal — Israel’s first with an Arab nation.

Egypt’s military rulers announced Saturday that they would abide by international agreements, a move apparently designed to allay concerns in Israel.

Much is at stake for the U.S. as Egypt tries to create a democracy out of the autocratic system over which Mubarak presided, with Washington’s political and financial help.

Both Egypt and Jordan have played leading roles, along with the U.S., in seeking a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Egypt also controls the Suez Canal, a critical route for global oil shipments.

The U.S. has provided $1.5 billion a year to Egypt, largely in military assistance, and the White House has said the possibility of changing that would depend on how the crisis unfolds.

The assistance has done more than buy tanks, planes and other weaponry for the Egyptian armed forces. It has built a tradition of close ties with the U.S. military establishment. Egyptian officers attend U.S. academies that emphasize the primacy of civilian control in a democracy.

The leading role that Egypt’s military is expected to play in the transition to free elections is likely to make Mullen’s and the U.S. military’s Cairo connections of growing importance in the White House.

The reverberations from Cairo are already being felt in significant ways in other Arab countries that are important U.S. allies.

Jordan’s new prime minister, Marouf Bakhit, has promised to continue political reforms demanded by protesters who forced the king to reshuffle his Cabinet. The changes in Amman followed protests by thousands of Jordanians who had demanded jobs, lower food costs and a change to an election law that they say gives government loyalists more seats in parliament.

U.S.-Jordanian military ties are among the strongest in the Arab world. Also, the revelation that a Jordanian intelligence officer was among the victims of a December 2009 suicide bombing in Afghanistan that also killed seven CIA employees pointed to the close and extensive cooperation on counterterrorism between U.S. and Jordanian intelligence agencies.

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