Dropping his neutral stand to side openly with Iraq in the Persian Gulf war, King Hussein has accused the U.S.-led allies of seeking Iraq's destruction and harboring postwar designs on the region.
In an emotional speech Wednesday night, the Jordanian leader urged a cease-fire in the war next door that has wrought hardship on his people."This is a war against all Arabs and Muslims and not only against Iraq," said the king, long a bulwark of pro-Western moderation in the region.
His speech echoed the strong pro-Iraqi sentiments of his 3.4 million subjects, many of them Palestinians.
Before the war, Jordan professed neutrality and purchased oil from Iraq, claiming it was not violating the U.N. embargo.
For refusing to join the anti-Iraq coalition, Saudi punished Jordan with a cutoff of oil and aid - and banned most Jordanian imports.
In recent days, Jordanian oil tank trucks have been bombed and strafed by allied warplanes as they headed for home on Iraqi roads.
Hussein accused the allies of trying to "deprive us of our basic needs" - punishment for Jordanian attempts to mediate a peaceful settlement to the Persian Gulf crisis following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
"The alternative to a cease-fire is the destruction of Arabs and Muslims, their humiliation, their exploitation, the trampling of their honor, pride and legitimate hopes," said Hussein.
In the United States, President Bush instantly rejected the cease-fire call. He reiterated that Saddam Hussein must first begin "a credible, unilateral withdrawal" from Kuwait.
Hussein's speech also stirred concern in Israel. A government official, refusing to be identified, said it was "the most comprehensive, and most aggressively pro-Iraqi speech" made by Hussein since the start of the war. Hussein offered the Iraqis "our love and our pride as they defend us all." But he did not suggest sending military aid or breaking the U.N. embargo on trade with Iraq.
His pause at that line may be enough to satisfy the Western donors who now keep Jordan's economy afloat and see its stability as crucial to the region.
But the sudden shift in tone, mirroring the mood of the Jordanian people, was an ominous signal for allied forces that Arab opinion is shifting in favor of their Iraqi foe.
The change was especially dramatic because the king, a canny survivor of 37 years on the throne, used potent Islamic and Arab imagery to flay some of his most crucial Arab allies of recent years for siding with the West.
"How shamed will be the Arabs who let Arab blood be spilled in this unjust war," he said.
"When Arab and Islamic lands are offered as bases to launch attacks to destroy Muslim Iraq . . . any Arab or Muslim can realize the magnitude of this crime committed against his religion and his nation."