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Jordanian King Abdullah will make his first official visit to Japan in early December to discuss bilateral relations and the resumed peace process in the Middle East with Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and other Japanese leaders, government sources said Thursday.

However, the governments of the two countries have yet to fix a date for the king’s trip through diplomatic channels, the sources said.

During his stay as a state guest, Abdullah will also have an audience with the Emperor, they said.

Abdullah ascended to the throne in early February following the death of his father, King Hussein, due to cancer.

In his meeting with Abdullah, Obuchi is expected to formally convey a Japanese decision to provide Jordan with several billion yen in grant-in-aid to help the Middle East country alleviate its external debt-repayment burden, the sources said.

The planned provision of “nonproject grant-in-aid” money is also aimed at helping Jordan enhance domestic political stability amid a critical period for the peace process in the entire Middle East region, they said.

There are growing expectations of significant progress in the Mideast peace process, which has been resumed after Labor Party leader Ehud Barak’s victory over the Likud Party’s hardline incumbent, Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Israeli prime ministerial election in May.

For geopolitical reasons, Jordan’s political stability is widely seen as essential to promoting the entire Middle East peace process. Jordan shares its border with Israel, Syria, Iraq and the Palestinian Autonomous Areas. Jordan signed a peace pact with Israel in 1994, becoming the second Arab country to do so after Egypt.

Japan has been the world’s largest single aid donor for the past eight consecutive years. Grant-in-aid is one type of Japanese official development assistance. The two other types are low-interest official yen loans and technical cooperation.

Unlike “general project grant-in-aid” money, which finances specific projects in a wide range of areas, nonproject grant-in-aid money is provided to help developing countries saddled by ballooning foreign debts and balance of payment deficits to promote economic structural reforms under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Japan is a major donor country for Jordan, having disbursed 220 billion yen in yen loans to the Middle East country by the end of fiscal 1997, the latest year for which figures are available.

The planned Japanese provision of several billion yen in grant-in-aid follows a meeting in June between Obuchi and U.S. President Bill Clinton in Cologne, Germany.

During the meeting, held on the fringes of the annual summit of the Group of Eight major industrialized countries, Clinton asked for Japanese cooperation to ease Jordan’s $7 billion foreign debt-repayment burden.

Obuchi told Clinton that although it is difficult for Japan to forgive bilateral debt owed by Jordan, Tokyo would consider some measures to “effectively” help ease its debt-repayment burden.

Before the G8 summit, Clinton pledged to King Abdullah that the United States would cancel about $700 million in bilateral debt owed by Jordan to the U.S.

But Japan has been reluctant to follow suit, saying that doing so would make it extremely difficult to extend fresh yen loans to Jordan. Japan’s basic aid policy calls for a suspension of fresh yen loans to a developing country that has its bilateral debt to Japan canceled, even partially.

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