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New King Faces Thorny Problems

Abudullah, the 37-year-old son of King Hussein, has been sworn in as the new ruler of Jordan. He will face difficult challenges in leading the Mideast nation into the 21st centuty.

A senior State Department official said of Abdullah, "his views are well known and we expect continuity." As for the personality of the eldest son of King Hussein, the same official added: "He is very much a chip off the old block."

As commander of Jordan's Special Forces, Abdullah holds the rank of major general. American officials say he is well known at the Pentagon and to senior American military commanders responsible for the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

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From the American perspective, senior administration officials and analysts in Washington say that as king, Abdullah's biggest challenges will be Iraq and the faltering Middle East peace process.

Dr. Robert Satloff, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says that compared to King Hussein, Abdullah "may be more forward leaning" on Iraq because of his experiences in Jordan's military.

On the issue of normalization of relations with Israel, Abdullah may not be quite as enthusiastic as King Hussein and his brother, former Crown Prince Hassan.

But Clinton administration officials are confident that the basic framework of the peace process is set and that "continuity will be strong in the line of succession," according to one senior official.

Any new ruler can expect to be tested, and in Abdullah's case, there's no shortage of regional leaders who are expected to try. Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Syria's Hafez Assad will try to exert influence, as will Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Abdullah has good relations with Jordan's large Palestinian population, in part due to the fact that his wife is from a prominent West Bank Palestinian family.

The Washington Institute's Satloff, who has written widely on Jordanian politics, notes that King Hussein was more of a trailblazer than a consensus-builder, especially on the issue of the Middle East peace process.

Satloff adds that the biggest change for U.S. policy makers will be that "Jordan has gone from the 'not having to worry about it' list to the 'to do' list."

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