AMMAN, Jan 29 (Suleiman Al-Khalidi/Reuters) - Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal on Sunday made his first official visit to Jordan since the kingdom expelled him more than a decade ago and held talks with King Abdullah.
Meshaal was accompanied by Qatar's Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The visit was planned before an uprising erupted in Syria, where Hamas has had its main headquarters outside the Gaza Strip.
Both Hamas and Jordan have denied that the Islamist movement may move its headquarters from Damascus, where many of its Jordanian leadership relocated after being expelled from the kingdom in 1999. The Syrian conflict has forced Hamas to move some of its activists and families out of the country.
The talk about the visit preceded the events in Syria and is not linked, Izzat Risheq, a senior Hamas official, said.
Hamas and Jordanian officials said neither side discussed reopening the Hamas office in Jordan.
Diplomatic and intelligence sources say Meshaal, 55, who has been based in Damascus since 2001, has effectively abandoned those headquarters, where he had been relative safety following a botched Israeli attempt on his life in the 1990s.
Jordan has indicated it will accommodate families of the Syrian based leadership, many of whom are Jordanian citizens, but would not tolerate political activities on its soil.
Analysts and Islamists say the visit has been given impetus by regional turmoil in which Islamists have made major political gains across the region following the Arab Spring uprisings, notably in Tunisia and Egypt.
Meshaal said he hoped his meeting with the king would be followed by other chapters in a strong relationship.
Hamas is concerned about the security of Jordan and its stability and we respect this, he said.
BOOST TO ISLAMISTS
Abdullah, a U.S. ally whose country was the second Arab state to make peace with Israel in 1994, is central to moribund Middle East peace efforts and seeks to appear as an honest broker with Palestinian factions, although the monarch strongly backs President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas consolidated its rule in the Gaza Strip in 2007 by overwhelming the forces of Abbas's Palestinian Authority, following victory in legislative elections.
Meshaal, a Jordanian citizen, was deported to Qatar after a crackdown by security forces on the movement in 1999 amid charges it harmed Jordanian national interests.
The crackdown embittered many Jordanians of Palestinian origin, a majority of the population, who saw it as a dangerous precedent in a country where many native Jordanians oppose a larger political role for Palestinians.
Jordanian Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh's steps to co-opt Islamists to the cabinet have drawn the ire of the powerful security and native Jordanian political establishment that regards any comeback by Hamas as a boost to Islamists.
Jordanian Islamists, who make up the main political opposition, have been in the forefront of street protests demanding sweeping political reforms.
There are forces that are not pleased with this visit and see themselves losing as a result, said Zaki Bani Irsheid, a leader of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood. (Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Janet Lawrence)