Official website of His Majesty King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein
Press Room
Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

By: George Stephanopoulos

For: ABC - This Week
16 May 2004

ABC: And I'm back with King Abdullah of Jordan.

Your Majesty, thanks for having us back here today.

King Abdullah: Good to have you back here, George.

ABC: It's been a difficult year. The storming of the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians, disintegrations of security situations in Iraq. Because of all that, has America, as President Mubarak has said, ever been more hated in the Arab world?

King Abdullah: Well, this is a tremendous concern for all of us. I'm, of course, friendly with the United States. And I was educated in America. I have some of my dearest friends from your country. And to feel the anger and the rage that I see in the Middle East towards the United States really sort of frustrates and worries me tremendously.

And it's not just the Middle East. I feel it in other parts of the world, too, and it's something that I hope can be addressed as quickly as possible.

ABC: But as a friend of America, what do you say to other Arabs?

King Abdullah: Well, you know, the perception is that the United States is not very balanced on the core issues in the Middle East, which is the Israeli-Palestinian problem. And then you compound that with Iraq, so you get, unfortunately, the vision of Israeli tanks with Palestinians and American tanks with Iraqis.

I know the president is dedicated for a two-state solution for the future of the Palestinians. I honestly do believe that he wants Iraq for the Iraqis, but the visuals are very difficult for the people on the street.

ABC: Is there anything more the United States can do to wipe away those pictures from Abu Ghraib?

King Abdullah: Well, that will take some time. The good thing that the United States is the call for justice and I hope that the investigations will be quick and thorough, and those that are found guilty of crimes will be brought to justice. And those that know the United States know that the rule of law is one of the principles is one of the foundations of your nation.

ABC: Let's talk about Iraq. In his letter to you, President Bush said, "I know your country has important interests in the new Iraq." Spell those out. What does Jordan need to see in the new Iraq? And what do you fear?

King Abdullah: Well, I think we all have the same interest. We want to see a stable Iraq that is a part of the international community. If we see a disintegration of Iraq, if we see, God forsake, the worst-case scenario, civil war, then the whole region will be dragged into Iraq. And you know, we had a slight glimpse of the civil war in Lebanon several decades ago. This would be completely different. This would pull in countries from all over the region.

ABC: How likely is that prospect right now?

King Abdullah: It's more likely today than it was a year ago. We have to obviously understand that there is going to be a continued instability leading up to the hand-over. Once the hand-over happens, I hope that a new Iraqi government will give Iraqis a sense that they have a future.

There are major issues on the ground that still need to be dealt with. One of them that I think is extremely important is de-Baathification. I think once and for all, there should be a statement that is made on who of the Baathists -- if the Baathists are basically the Sunni sector of Iraq, that, as you well know, if you happen to be part of the system, if you want to be a teacher, a cab driver, an engineer, you had to be a Baath Party member.

The de-Baathification policy basically isolated the Sunnis. And they, I think, caused the problems that you had in Fallujah and elsewhere, is fear that they have no stake in the future.

What we're saying is identify once and for all who are the people who are persona non grata. Is it 100? Is it 100,000? Just get that list out there.

ABC: You know, I think we started that process, haven't we?

King Abdullah: You have started the process, but nowhere to the extent that it needs to be done if you want to bring society back into the fold.

In Mosul, there's some -- last thing I heard that they need 2,000 teachers. There's 2,500 teachers in Fallujah without jobs. I mean, there are some major impacts on society that need to be addressed more quickly than is being addressed at the moment.

ABC: You know, I was talking to Secretary of State Powell earlier this morning. He made it pretty clear that the United States would have approval over whoever would be in this provisional government.

And I guess the question I have for you is: How can that provisional government be seen as legitimate if the United States is part of forming it, given the feeling that Iraqis have now about the United States?

King Abdullah: Well, again, I think you have to keep it in mind that Lakhdar Brahimi of the UN special envoy for Iraq is sort of -- playing a major role in the formation of the future of Iraq.

And so, I would imagine that the United States will be coordinating with the United Nations. And I hope, give the United Nations much leeway in that process. (inaudible) they have the right, but I'm hoping, and the impression I got from the president that this corporal manoeuvre will be given to the United Nations.

ABC: The ultimate goal is democracy. Can Jordan live with an Iraq that elects a Shiite majority, an Iranian-style bureaucracy?

King Abdullah: I think the implications is not on Jordan, on the whole region. There are some special specific issues inside of Iraq that have to be dealt with. And again, I think that the most difficult task that UN envoy Brahimi has is picking -- or assisting to pick the government. And the most crucial position will be that of prime minister, because that is sort of the...

ABC: More than the president?

King Abdullah: More than the -- the president, I would imagine, is sort of more of a symbolic role. So it's the prime minister which is the most difficult candidate. And I can't answer that question. My feelings go out to Mr. Brahimi on having to...

ABC: So what kind of a person should have that job?

King Abdullah: Somebody who is held in esteem by Iraqis that have been inside of Iraq. I would imagine it would be somebody from inside, as opposed to somebody that came into Iraq once the Saddam regime fell, and somebody who's, you know, is a pretty tough individual, because you're going to need a power house, in a way, to be able to bring stability and calm to the Iraqi streets.

ABC: Now, once that provisional government is in place, there's been a lot of talk about bringing in a multinational force to provide security, get the American face off the occupation. Would Jordan be willing to contribute troops to that force?

King Abdullah: No, and it's not that we don't want to play a part in sharing responsibilities, but my own personal belief that we, in Jordan,, as a country that has a border with Iraq, as do other countries -- four or five other countries that do -- I think we all have personal agendas.

I mean, obviously, the future of Iraq is important for Jordan. So if I had Jordanian troops inside that country, that means that I might not be as transparent as I should be, it being there for the Iraqi people.

And therefore, my position is -- and I believe it should be applied to all the other countries that have borders with Iraq -- is that we're not the right candidates for peacekeeping. There are other countries in the Middle East that can commit to the future of Iraq, but...

ABC: None are doing it yet.

King Abdullah: I'm sorry?

ABC: None are doing it yet.

King Abdullah: Well, I think they will feel more comfortable with it, you know if United Nations or Iraqis themselves ask for commitment. So that probably would change.

Obviously we're prepared to help Iraq in many other different areas. We're helping in assisting in how to form certain ministries in the government. We're training police and soldiers here. We have a field hospital in Fallujah.

So we don't want to let Iraqis down, but military forces from people who have a border with Iraq, I think, is -- I don't think it's transparent.

ABC: You know, you talk about the dangers, the fragmentation, and everyone can agree that civil war would be a horrible outcome, but many in the United States are starting to say that a kind of loose fragmentation, the Shiites take over the south, the Kurds take over the north. You know, there's some ferment in the Middle. It might be the least worst option at this point. Why are they wrong?

King Abdullah: Well, I think you'd have to ask the Iranians and the Turks who haven't -- I mean, we have a very good relations with the Kurds, but I mean, I think the other countries would object because of their issues that they have with the Kurds.

I think also that fragmenting the society would create a lot more problems if Shiites states in the south. Again, the Shiite population in the Gulf countries. And that could create a lot more problems for them.

We all believe -- and I think the majority of Iraqis that love their country also would stand by a unified Iraq. Fragmenting Iraq would allow exterior powers to have their own agendas.

ABC: You made no secret of your unhappiness with President Bush's embrace of the Sharon plan last month. Are you now coming around to it as you -- as Secretary Powell stated yesterday, that this is an opportunity?

King Abdullah: Sharon's plan is an opportunity as long as it's part of the roadmap. What we don't want is being able to be finding ourselves going back to the drawing board. Any initiatives by the Israeli government that is part in parcel of the roadmap or pushes the roadmap forward is something that we will welcome.

And what happened in Washington was there was one or two statements that made us clearly is the roadmap active and is there a two-state solution? I got, obviously, after very good discussions with president, clarification that the roadmap is still the vehicle that gets us hopefully to a two-state solution and peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and Israelis and the Arabs.

ABC: Secretary Powell told me this morning that he still believed that Yasser Arafat is a major obstacle to peace. Do you see any way to get the roadmap started with Chairman Arafat still in place?

King Abdullah: Well, this is part of the frustrations that we are facing at the moment. We talked to the Palestinian prime minister. I've talked to Abu Mazen and I've talked to President Arafat. There is this unfortunate competition between Palestinian political authority. And that is weakening the Palestinian position. And until they can unify and come up with a strategy that allows the international community to help them, then they would be in a very weak position.

ABC: And does that mean replacing Arafat?

King Abdullah: Well Arafat, I think, will have to decide how he is going to sort of implement himself in the future of Palestine. I mean, we manage now to have a very successful meeting here between the Palestinian prime minister and Colin Powell. The Palestine prime minister is going to see Dr. Condoleezza Rice on Monday.

There is a window, an opportunity for Palestinian government to get back on track. If Palestinian political authority is too busy competing with each other, then they lose the opportunity. The Israeli government will say we have no partner for peace, and we're back to the drawing board. So there's a major, problem.

ABC: And finally, sir, the issue of reform. Every single speech you give, you talk about the importance of political and economic reform throughout the Middle East. That's what this conference here at the World Economic Forum is about, as well. And I think there's a great (inaudible) in the Bush administration that taking out Saddam Hussein would be a catalyzing event, and it would help spread democracy throughout the Middle East. Is that dream dead now?

King Abdullah: No, again, whatever you want to be able to do -- we can achieve reform across the board, whether it's political, social or economic. But we can't do it unless you solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, because it is at the core of everybody who is living in the region unless we solve the problem.

Now, we have a relationship with Israel. We have a relationship with the Palestinians. You know that we're embarking on a very aggressive social, political and reform package in Jordan. But we'll never be able to have the vision that we want unless this problem is solved, because that instability makes the old guys, makes the traditionalists and the extremists fear moving forward. And this is what is at stake.

The future of Israel is not to the Jordan River or to the Golan Heights up in the northeast area, or to the (inaudible) with the Egyptians. The future of the Israelis is peace integrated into the region. And other words, from Morocco on the Atlantic to (inaudible) That is the part that the Israelis have. But to be able to do that, you have to have a Palestinian state.

If they stop cutting off the future of the Palestinians, and so that the Palestinians have just the part -- or parts of the West Bank.

Then they will never have the future that they, I believe, should have, for them. And we will never have the future that we want for our children of Israelis, so it's reversed.

ABC: At first, you must have reformed the Palestinian world and reformed the Arab world before you can have that kind of stable peace between Israel and the Arabs.

King Abdullah: The Arabs through our countries are already in a (inaudible) declaration, they came out to get Israel. Every single point that the Israelis ever wanted, security, integration, relationships with all the Arab countries, even the Saddam government signed on to that document.

Next week at the (inaudible) Summit, we even -- all the Arab countries have signed on an article to stand -- a unified Arab stand against terrorism, suicide bombing, everything that can possibly be done to reach out to Israel and say the Arabs want to have peace with you.

But the problem is not us. We're sitting on the sidelines, and it's between the Israelis and the Palestinians to move forward. The prize, at the end of the day, and the Arabs have offered it to the Israelis [is]: you can be part of the neighbourhood but the cost of that is also a future for the Palestinians.

ABC: Has the military action in Iraq helped or hurt the reform efforts?

King Abdullah: Again, I think the reform effort goes back to the Israeli-Palestinian. I think Iraq is the sideshow. Now obviously it's difficult for Americans to be...


... because, you know, you see your soldiers there in danger. But it is a secondary issue. You talk to the overwhelming majority of the Arab population, you ask them what is the most important thing? Democracy, freedom, civil liberties, and every single person will go back to you and say the Israeli-Palestinian war. That is the problem.

And maybe the lack of understanding in the United States that it is embedded, it is at the heart of the essence of Arabs throughout this whole region. Solve this problem. We will take the bite out of extremists and we will sharpen the recruiters of terrorism down. We will have a hope for all of us to have a life in this part of the world.

ABC: Your Majesty, thank you very much. We'll be right back.