A disagreement with Jordan's King Hussein over alliances in the Persian Gulf, which could cost his nation millions in U.S. aid, could be the most dramatic example of growing support for Saddam Hussein.
A State Department official said administration officials are worried that Hussein's denunciation of the allies is a sign that others in the Arab world, seeing civilian casualties, are moving to create an alliance with the Iraqi leader.The ideal solution, the official said, "would be a short war."
But, failing that, the officials said, it was decided to move quickly to show King Hussein that there is a price to pay for backing Iraq in the conflict.
The administration did that Friday, disclosing that the United States will hold up about $75 million in foreign assistance already appropriated for Jordan.
The officials emphasized the temporary nature of the hold on aid money, saying that the assistance program for Jordan in the forthcoming budget request will be about the same level as the current year.
But one official said, "We're going to sit on the money that hasn't been delivered."
State Department and White House spokesmen said that the aid money is "under review," a euphemism meaning that it is being held up.
According to State Department figures, $57 million for the current year has not been delivered to Jordan and will be held back until the current crisis is ended. An estimated $20 million from last year also has not been turned over, and will be held back.
A food aid program, including the sale of 50,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat at subsidized prices, will be continued, and Jordan is still eligible for loans to buy American agricultural products.
President Bush, at a beginning of a photo opportunity with Argentine Foreign Minister Guido di Tella, said of the growing tension between the two countries:
"There is quite some concern now about what appears to be a shift in the Jordanian position. . . . On the other hand, we've always had a historically good relationship with Jordan. But this complicates things."
Bush continued, "We're having to review our aid picture with him, given the fact they've seemed to have moved over, way over, into the Saddam Hussein camp, totally."
An official for the Hashemite Jordanian Court denied Friday reports that Jordan was contemplating breaking diplomatic ties with the United States.
Sherif Zaid bin Shaker, the chief spokesman for the Royal Court of King Hussein, said the reports were "groundless."