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An involved diplomat is leaving
Mar 15,2017 - Last updated at Mar 15,2017
Three years ago, in April 2014, US president Barack Obama nominated Alice G. Wells as the new ambassador to Jordan, replacing Stuart Jones, who had been assigned to Iraq.
Even though she was born in Beirut, Wells was known more as a Sovietologist rather than a Middle East expert.
Jordan was Wells’ first assignment as an ambassador, but one would not know that if one followed her activities in the last three years.
One can say that she was the most active, most travelled and most engaged US ambassador in as far as anyone remembers.
Wells paid serious attention to some of the key areas that are of most importance to Jordanians: security, the economy and Palestine.
Last year alone, US military aid to Jordan reached an unprecedented $800 million. The US has already delivered eight of the planned 20 Black Hawk military helicopters to the Kingdom.
Security cameras are now posted all along the Jordanian northern border, providing the military with early warning signs of any approaching danger as part of the Jordan Border Security Programme.
The most senior US military officials and generals continue to come to Jordan and the military exercises and trainings have raised the professionalism of the Jordanian military.
Two female pilots are currently training in the US, as are hundreds of other members of JAF on an annual basis, thanks in part to the high level of interest that Wells, and through her, Washington, have given to Jordanian-US military cooperation.
On the economic side, during her ambassadorship, Wells oversaw the largest ever US funding to Jordan.
As she told journalists Monday in her last press conference, every available opportunity to support Jordan was used leading to a $1.7 billion record in financial support in 2016. This included $470 million in direct budget support.
Last year also saw a record $2.2 billion in private investment, 700 exchange students, 500 cultural events and a 7 per cent increase in trade. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation has supported and insured projects for $1 billion.
On the Palestinian front, Wells worked behind the scenes to try and improve Palestinian-Jordanian economic cooperation.
The US ambassador moved bureaucratic mountains to transfer an unused US-funded vehicle and container-scanning machine from a nearby border to the King Hussein Bridge in order to improve trade between the West Bank and Jordan.
She also hosted the important meeting between King Abdullah, former secretary of state John Kerry and the Israeli prime minister in November 2014.
That meeting led to understandings that helped de-escalate violence and restrictions at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Unlike many previous diplomats, Wells did not limit her work to sending reports, and attending protocol and official meetings.
She engaged with Jordanians of all walks of life and went out of the embassy to all parts of the Kingdom.
Her love and participation in hiking gave visibility to Jordan’s nature trails and lent support to this form of tourism.
Wells’ meetings and travels were not always welcomed by individuals or officials who prefer that diplomats stay put in the capital, even though Jordan is not Amman, and to know Jordan one needs to travel around the country.
The US ambassador was first and foremost American, and she reflected the American values and way of life irrespective of the consequences.
It was within her commitment to American values that she got in some trouble.
One of her meetings received much more attention than others when she joined an LGBT event in May 2015. The event was held to mark the International Day Against Homophobia Transphobia and Biphobia.
Organised by My Kali Magazine and LGBT activists, 40 participants met to raise awareness about the social and economic challenges facing the LGBT community, and their event was given attention by the attendance of Wells and other Western diplomats.
The Islamic Action Front issued a statement condemning the ambassador. A number of columnists wrote against her and she was also denounced by some MPs in parliament.
But despite these attacks, Wells was not deterred and went on working in a number of areas.
Some human rights activists believe that her biggest accomplishment was succeeding, along with others, in stopping a controversial NGO law.
The restrictive draft law had many civil society organisations worried that it would make it much harder to establish charities and NGOs, and will greatly increase the already harsh restrictions and government intervention in the workings of community-based organisations.
At the same time, Wells did not try to be overzealous about all issues.
When I asked about her opinion about capital punishment, she was careful not to take a position.
“We have the capital punishment in a number of states and we can’t tell Jordanians whether to support or oppose it.”
The US ambassador was very supportive of Jordan’s security policies even if at times they appeared to be infringing on human rights or rolling back some of the accomplishments of the Jordanian Arab Spring.
She would not intervene, for example, when the civil society insisted that the right to assembly is a constitutional right, nor did she speak out against restrictions on freedom of expression or the need to deregulate community media policies and high fees.
In her thinking, she would rather err in giving the Jordanian security the benefit of the doubt.
Wells, a career civil servant, is leaving Jordan three months before her scheduled June departure.
Rumours are that she has received a senior position in Washington.
In her press conference, Wells confirmed that she was going back to the State Department but refused to give indications what her new position will be.
Whether Wells will be in the counter terrorism or Near East department, it is expected that she will be engaged with this part of the world for some time to come.
It is hoped that her three years as ambassador to Jordan and her extensive meetings with people of all walks of life will enable her to speak out about the issues close to their hearts, including security, the economy, Palestine and the desire for serious democratic reforms.
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