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Press Room
Interviews
Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

By: Tim Russert

For: NBC - Meet the Press
12 May 2002



NBC: Your Majesty, good morning.

King Abdullah: Good morning.

NBC: Your reaction to the Israelis postponing any military incursion into Gaza?

King Abdullah: Well, I think that's a positive and encouraging step, especially in the light of the Arab conference in Cairo led by Crown Prince Abdullah and hosted by President Mubarak, where the Arab countries are really trying to articulate the vision of Beirut, which was really a declaration of meeting all of Israeli demands for future peace, integration and normalisation with Israel. And so to see that the Arabs are in Cairo trying to move that in a practical momentum-I presume that the Israeli restraint has created an even more positive atmosphere.

NBC: If the Likud Party, Ariel Sharon's party, today votes against recognising a Palestinian state, what will that do to peace discussions?

King Abdullah: Well, I think it'd be extremely negative reaction because what we're talking about is a crisis of violence that neither side can get themselves out. And we have some Israelis that say this is a security issue, and it's never been a security issue. It's a political one where the Palestinians have been under occupation for 35 years. And unless you reach out to the Palestinians and say that there's going to be a hope for the future, violence is going to continue and there's going to be tremendous doubt and scepticism in the Arab world.

NBC: But to the families of Israelis who lost their children in suicide bombings, it very much is a security issue.

King Abdullah: Absolutely. I'm not condoning what happened on a terrorist level. And the question was asked: What do you think of the retaliation? I think the problem is the word retaliation. Since the start of the crisis, each side has been going back and forth and lives have been spilled on both sides. What I'm saying is that we have a political process with the Israelis to meet all their demands, their security, their future prosperity in the Middle East, but the only way that we can achieve that is for the Palestinians to also have a hope for the future. Otherwise, Israelis are going to continue to lose their lives as will Palestinians and Arabs.

NBC: It's such a complicated problem. Way back in 1964, King Hussein was on MEET THE PRESS, and I want to show that to you and to our audience and have you respond:

(Videotape, April 19, 1964):

Mr. Lawrence Spivak: Your Majesty, may I ask you a question? Is there anything that Israel can do that would make possible real peace between Israel and the Arab nations or are the Arab nations determined to destroy Israel as a nation? Isn't that the nub of the whole question in your relationship?

King Hussein: I don't think that it is that, and I feel that there's a great deal that Israel can do. The first thing that it can do is to begin to realise properly that it cannot survive hiding behind force. That to live peacefully, it has got to make an effort to remedy the wrong it has done over a million people who still remain as refugees demanding their human rights in this world. When we feel that it ceases to be a threat to us, to our future, to our hopes, when they feel that they must do something to convince us of that, then we will be on our way to finding a solution to the tragedy that has existed for so many years.

(End videotape)

NBC: Thirty-eight years ago, you were just two when your dad was on this programme. And yet the language could be repeated this very day.

King Abdullah: And that's the sadness of the whole situation. That my father dedicated his whole life to achieving peace, which we did between Jordan and Israel, but, as he alluded to, unless there's a solution to the Palestinians. That's the sadness. My father had always said that he wants peace for his children and their children's children, for all of us in the Middle East to move along

NBC: Do you believe that Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat are capable of making peace?

King Abdullah: Well, if they're not, I think the people who are capable of making peace are the peoples of Israel and Palestine. And I think if we were to address the majority of Palestinians and the Israelis, I think what they would tell us is enough is enough. For God's sake, get us out of this crisis. Now, there are elements in play, as I said, the Arabs have reached out to the Israeli public saying 100 per cent of everything that you've ever wanted from the Arabs is now on the table. We're willing to welcome you into the neighbourhood, to give you peace and security, to bring you into the fold as a nation that has its relations extending from Morocco in the Atlantic to Oman in the Indian Ocean. But at the same time, you have to meet us halfway and give hope to the Palestinians. That's the only way that we will be able...

NBC: And by giving hope, the Israelis would have to give up the settlements, in your mind, return to the pre-1967 borders and allow the Palestinian flag to fly over East Jerusalem.

King Abdullah: Well, again, the language that is being put out is being out in such a way that's flexible enough not to intimidate either the Arab position or the Israeli position at the beginning. In other words, we want to find a just solution to the problem. We want an end to occupation of the Palestinians as quickly as possible. And then obviously, whether it's refugees, as the language says, an agreed upon solution. In other words, giving flexibility, borders would have to be negotiated. I personally believe that the future of Jerusalem should be that that allows all three faiths an ability to exercise their rights and freedoms as a symbol of how we start the new century.

NBC: This morning in the Los Angeles Times you are quoted as saying the following-and I'll put it on the board: "Can you imagine the horror if we lose that 75 per cent of the Arab population to extremism? Not only does it destroy all hopes for the future of my country, but it definitely will affect the future and interests of the West and the United States. I don't want to frighten people about September 11 scenarios, but if you have a militant region, it's going to take decades to fix. If I were Osama Bin Laden now and I originally thought I'd lost, I'd be coming out of my cave and thinking, `Ah, maybe I have a chance now.'" You think bin Laden is winning the psychological and public relations war?

King Abdullah: In the past three or four weeks, since the start of the Israeli incursions into the West Bank, definitely if he is alive, his position would be stronger. What I was alluding to was that 75 per cent of the Arab population is below the age of 30. It's a very young generation that has a chance to move forward. Unfortunately when we listen to some of the rhetoric on Arab satellite televisions that just talk about hatred and anger –

I remember when I was a small child, it was the same extremism that I used to listen to that my father had to put up with. So, have we not learned in the past thirty, forty years if we don't have a chance to getting the Palestinians a future, then there's a chance of losing this young generation who basically want education, health care. They want a bright future where they can have an ability to move forward with dignity? We have a chance of losing that generation and what a mess it's going to be for the region if we do.

NBC: How stable is your monarchy? How secure are you?

King Abdullah: I think extremely stable. You've got to remember that Jordan has been through so much over so many decades that we're somewhat resilient and probably throughout the crisis that we've had since the start of the intifada, we've had the quietest country in the Middle East. But that doesn't mean that everything is OK in the Middle East. People are angry, the rage is on and I think one of the points that I wanted to make in Washington, although there seems to be a relative calm now, that it’s only temporary because when Colin Powell started his trip to the region there was an element of hope. So human beings what they are, they held back to see that there might be a future--Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. But if we don't articulate a vision in the next couple of weeks, that rage is going to come back and it's going to be twice as strong.

NBC: Why aren't there any democracies amongst the Arab countries?

King Abdullah: Well, most countries or the moderate ones are trying to move in that direction, but with the circumstances that are surrounding us, it's making it very difficult. For example, you know, I would very much like to call for elections this year. But if there is a bloodbath going on in the West Bank and the Palestinians are suffering, if you're going to go hit Iraq at the same time which could only destabilise the Middle East even more, how can you move forward with democracy when you have all these regional conflicts and instability? And so what's been so sad for a lot of us is it's slowed down the pace of reform.

NBC: Would you align yourself with Saddam Hussein if the United States attacked Iraq this time?

King Abdullah: Well, what you have to remember -- going back to 1990 -- that that's not what transpired. What His Late Majesty had always said was that, "Look, violence is not going to get us anywhere. War is not going to get us anywhere. If anything, it is going to create more instability." And we went around at the beginning of the invasion of Kuwait trying to explain to our friends in the West that there was a political solution to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait. And, unfortunately, nobody listened to him. And we were put in a position that if you're not with us, you're against us. And His Late Majesty said, "Well, that's not what it's about. Dialogue, not war, not violence, should be the way out of this mechanism." And unfortunately, if we look back in hindsight, one might argue that he might have had a point at that time. So again, going on from His Late Majesty's position, dialogue should be tried to the full extent and not exhausted. I think there is a potential of getting Iraq back into the international fold. I know that there're ideas and schools of thought in the United States administration to go against Iraq, but if there's any sensitivity to what's going on between Israelis and Palestinians now, moving on Iraq at this stage would be tremendous instability in the area, and one that I don't think the Arab world could handle.

NBC: What does that mean?

King Abdullah: In other words, that there has been so much rage and anger and frustration on the Arab street, vis-a-vis the Palestinian problem, that would only be exacerbated. And it would really create massive disturbances throughout all Arab countries.

NBC: Could it threaten Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt?

King Abdullah: It would threaten a lot of countries. Again, I don't think it would -- I mean, people would be very angry and very upset in Jordan, but, again, it wouldn't threaten the future of Jordan, no.

NBC: If, in fact, you were forced to make a decision, standing with the United States or with Saddam Hussein, what would you do?

King Abdullah: Well, again, you know, we have a very good relationship with the American administration, and I think they value our position that dialogue is the way out. And we will continue to work to make sure that if we want this to work out properly, that dialogue is the way to go out. The danger is, is when you get into an armed conflict, especially with the Iraqi scenario where you really don't know how you're going to come out of it. I'm very worried that you could spill the regional-or the Iraqi problem into a regional confrontation. And so we'll continue to advocate dialogue and sort of peaceful--as you said, do we allow the words of hatred or violence, or do we allow those of reasons and sensibility to be the options? We'll always opt for reason and sensibility.

NBC: Before you go, you do have some other interests other than the Throne. The Travel Channel recently did a documentary on Jordan. And here you are, first on your motorcycle riding through the desert, riding a camel and even scuba diving.

King Abdullah: Well, you know, I had spent twenty yars in the armed forces, and that was one of the -- probably the best -- school of life. And I was allowed to learn so many different skills that really kept me from sitting behind a desk. And unfortunately, with this particular position now, a lot of these things I'm not allowed to do anymore. And so this channel gave me the opportunity to get back out, see my country, do the things that I've done most of my adult life.

NBC: But there also is one secret: your Hollywood debut back in 1996.

King Abdullah: Yeah, nobody's going to let me forget that.

NBC: Let's take a look. There he is on "Star Trek." Is that the beginning of a Hollywood career or do you like your day job?

King Abdullah: Well, as I told you with that debut and what you've seen on the Travel Channel, don't worry. I'm not going to quit my day job. But it was just an opportunity to go see how things work in Hollywood, and I've got to hand it to the people of "Voyager." I found that very tough, and I'm glad -- at that point, I was glad -- that I was a soldier and not an actor, definitely.

NBC: King Abdullah II, we thank you very much for joining us.

King Abdullah: Thank you very much, sir.