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Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

By: Gavin Esler

For: BBC - Newsnight
2 July 2004



BBC: Your Majesty, how concerned are you, despite the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq, about the security situation in your neighbouring country?

King Abdullah: The security situation will continue to be a major problem for this new Iraqi government. I feel somewhat optimistic that we have strong, courageous leaders in Iraq. I've had the pleasure of meeting the Iraqi president. I've heard from the prime minister and a lot of the ministers. These are good, tough, courageous people. But the challenges that face them on security are going to be their major problem. They're going to need everybody's help.

BBC: On that point, if these good, tough courageous people came to you and said your brother Arabs need help, can Jordan foresee a situation in which you would be prepared to commit troops to help out the Iraqis?

King Abdullah: Now that there's an Iraqi interim government and we hope a fully independent process very soon in Iraq, I presume if the Iraqis ask us for help directly, it will be very difficult for us to say no. Our message to the president and to the prime minister is: tell us what you want, tell us how we can help and you have 110 per cent support from us. If we don't stand with them, if they fail, then we will pay the price.

BBC: That's a very interesting point because it's the first time I've heard a leader of an Arab country say it in such terms. You've got the qualification about not wishing to upset anyone's feelings, but it may be then possible that troops from Arab countries might go to Iraq?

King Abdullah: I would presume so. Again this is an Iraqi decision and this has not been discussed with the Iraqis. Again, I would feel that we're not the right people but at the end of the day, if there's something that we can provide - a service to the future of Iraqis - then we will definitely study that proposal.

BBC: Saddam Hussein appears in court today. What do you think should happen to him? He could face the death penalty in Iraq. Do you think that's a fair punishment for him?

King Abdullah: This is one of many first tests for a new Iraq. Obviously, there's going to be a lot of attention of how Iraqi justice will be carried out. I just hope that as it's a showcase trial to an extent, and the first major issue that Iraqis are going to have to deal with re: the old Iraq, I hope it will be done through the rule of law and be just and fair.

BBC: So if it were to come to the death penalty, then that's a matter for Iraqis?

King Abdullah: At the end of the day, it's what their constitution and what their laws say. What we want, as the international community, is to be able to see that it's done in a fair process.

BBC: You must be disappointed that despite all the talk from Tony Blair and others about using Iraq as perhaps a spring board to bring greater peace in the Middle East, solving once and for all the Israeli-Palestinian problem, that has not happened and is nowhere near to happening?

King Abdullah: Maybe the lack of international understanding is that the core root of all problems in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian one. I see Iraq, although it's difficult for maybe people in Britain or the United States to see it this way, as a side show. The main problem that feeds on all the instabilities that we see in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Until you solve that, then we will never have the type of stability that the Middle East hopes for.

BBC: I talked to a lot of Jordanians last year when I was in your country and I didn't meet a single one who had any faith in George Bush as an honest broker in the Middle East,or who had any faith in the Americans at all. How difficult does it make your position as a good friend of the United States in a region where that's a dangerous thing to be?

King Abdullah: It does make it difficult and again, the visuals that you see on television where you see Israeli tanks, some of them American made, in front of Palestinians, and American tanks in front of Iraqis, those perceptions whether it's newspapers or television, make it more and more difficult for a lot of our Western friends to say that we're there to bring good to the Middle East, because people don't see the movement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. They look at Iraq and they're very suspicious and they feel this is just another extent of occupation.

BBC: We know we're going down the road of the Sharon plan, whether you agree with it or not. Is there anything that the Americans could do now differently that would ease the situation for you and for Arabs?

King Abdullah: I think everybody knows what needs to be done. We have an American president, a first American president, to articulate a viable independent Palestinian state. He gave a time line of 2005, maybe not realistic but at least to keep people focused, and a mechanism of how to get there, which is the roadmap. So there's no rocket science in this issue, we all know what needs to be done. What we need to be able to do is make sure there's pressure put on the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Arabs also, to move the process forward through the vehicle, which is the roadmap, to get to a two-state solution. So if you ask what can the Americans do or what can all of us do - move the process along, and all of us know to minute detail what it is, the roadmap.