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Christie’s visit to Jordan is seen as rehearsal for the national stage

By John Reitmeyer, The Record (Hackensack N.J.) –

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is in Jordan, after spending several days this week on a high-profile, highly visible trip to Israel. But now the governor is without the traveling delegation and the regular media updates — complete with their logo and color pictures — that marked his time in Israel.

Christie and his family are staying in Jordan as the guests of King Abdullah II, a Western-educated Muslim monarch who is about the same age as the governor.

Christie’s office has described his stay in Jordan as a “personal, family visit,” contrasting the heavily promoted “Jersey to Jerusalem trade mission” that occupied the earlier part of the trip.

Despite the lower profile, analysts suggest Christie’s stop in Jordan, an Arab country, could be just as important as the tour of Israel. It will help him, they say, get a more balanced view of the region and also give him more experience to draw from if he pursues national ambitions.

Christie did not go to any Palestinian villages while in Israel, saying his focus during the first half of the trip was just on Israel. He did, however, stress his visit to Jordan while speaking to reporters from Israel earlier this week.

“We’re going to focus on economic issues and security issues with King Abdullah as well,” Christie said. “We are seeing one of the most prominent leaders of the Arab world while I’m on this trip.”

Rutgers political science professor Eric Davis said that by going to Jordan the governor is showing his interest in the region’s broader issues, including the peace process. New Jersey has a large Jewish population, but also many residents with Arab backgrounds.

“It’s part of, probably, his efforts to also tie in and show he’s not only supportive of Israel,” said Davis, the former director of Rutgers’ Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

“It’s very interesting that he would go to Jordan,” he said.

Drew University’s Christopher Taylor, a professor of Islamic studies, said the trip to Jordan would also fit in well with Christie’s national ambitions, something many viewed as the purpose of the Middle East visit, the governor’s first trip overseas since taking office in 2010.

Christie is seen by many right now as a possible running mate for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, or a possible GOP presidential candidate himself in 2016.

“For a high-profile governor with tremendous prospects nationally within the party, it would be a very important place to go because it shows he has experience within the region,” said Taylor, who is the director of the university’s Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict.

“This would be one obvious place to demonstrate one has international experience,” he said.

Christie, during the conference call earlier this week, explained to reporters how he ended up in Jordan.

“The trip to Jordan was out of the invitation of King Abdullah, he invited me well over a year ago to come see the sights of Jordan and talk to him about business issues and issues regarding security,” Christie said.

While in Israel, Christie’s trip was partially financed by the Republican Jewish Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based political lobbying group that works to bolster ties among conservative Jews and the GOP.

In Jordan, the king is paying for lodging, some transportation and other activities, according to the governor’s office. New Jersey taxpayers are paying for security costs for the entire trip, though the amount has yet to be disclosed.

So far, Christie’s office has done little to promote the Jordan part of his Middle East trip. By contrast, the Jersey-to-Jerusalem trade mission included a traveling delegation and even its own logo.

His staff also made sure it sent home regular updates with photos of the governor touring Israel, all thanks to a taxpayer-funded photographer who accompanied the governor. The photo gallery included a shot of Christie, a Catholic, at Jerusalem’s Western Wall and one from his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

And Christie himself sent out regular social media updates from Israel to his followers.

But there have been no photos or tweets sent out from Jordan, and the governor left behind the traveling group of businesspeople and Jewish leaders with whom he toured Israel.

Jordan — mostly Muslim, but with a small Christian minority — has a population of 6.5 million that includes a large portion of Palestinian refugees. It is generally viewed as vibrant and politically stable, but the king has not been totally insulated from the broad wave of democracy that has been moving through other countries in the region, like Egypt and Tunisia, and is now most visibly in neighboring Syria.

The New York Times reported on modest protests in the Jordanian city of Karak last month. And 12 activists were arrested in the capital city Amman last week for insulting the king and disturbing the peace, according to Associated Press reports.

But Jordan has found a way to work as a partner with both the U.S. and Israel while also serving as an intermediary in the peace process.

“The Jordanians will give him their take on the situation,” Taylor said. “The Jordanians still feel the Israeli government is not being as forthcoming as it needs to be in terms of the peace process.”

To be taken seriously on foreign policy matters, Christie will have to do more than just tell stories about the time he spent with foreign leaders like Netanyahu and Abdullah.

He will also have to map out his own positions on thorny Middle East issues, including the peace process and its major sticking point, the settlements on the West Bank, Davis said.

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