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Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

By: Lyse Doucet

For: BBC - World
8 August 2006

King Abdullah:We want, obviously, an immediate ceasefire, we want to bring stability as quickly to Lebanon, we're fully supportive of the Lebanese government, but what happens after that? What happens to the whole of the Middle East if we don't find a sort of a solution to the political problems that we have been facing for so many decades? Whether it is the Lebanese track, or equally important, the Palestinian one. If we don't have peace, if we don't all sit around, the Arabs and the Israelis and declare a new future for us, then we will be continually sucked into the abyss, and this is our greatest concern.

BBC: Do you think that the resolution that has been emerging from New York is too pro-Israeli, as the Lebanese say?

King Abdullah: Well, at the end of the day, we need to support this Lebanese government, and all of us need to stand behind the Lebanese people and Siniora's government. They are in the best position, I think, to articulate what is needed, and so we are supporting the seven-point plan of Siniora, we have Arab foreign ministers going to the UN at the moment to try and bridge the differences between what the UN is saying and between what the Lebanese-Arab position is, and hopefully there will be a positive outcome, but today as opposed to tomorrow.

BBC: But they say it's a double standard, that Hezbollah has been told to stop all its attacks, and Israel has been told to stop its offensive military operations, which leaves it to Israel to decide what is offensive and defensive.

King Abdullah: This is part of I think part of the bridging that needs to be done…

BBC: You think there is a double standard?

King Abdullah: Well, at the end of the day, we need to get back to the peace process, and if one side or another has some leeway to be able continue military excursions on either side, then we're not going to solve the problem. It's getting people to the peace tables as quickly as possible. I think it's all become very clear to all of us in the region that any unilateral approach does not work anymore. Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon, but without sitting around the table and discussing with the Lebanese, pulled out of Gaza without really sitting down with the PNA and discussing how to finally end the Palestinian problem. And if we don't actually, it's not the process…we need to actually come to negotiations at the end of the day, that the Israelis and Arabs know what the future is. The grey areas at this stage don't help us anymore.

BBC: You talk about going back to the peace table, but in fact, many Arabs have said that this draft resolution is a recipe for continuing the war.

King Abdullah: This is why we have to have, I think, supporting the Lebanese at this stage, because if we can't get the Lebanese a hundred per cent into this, if we can't reach out to the Lebanese people, and what's been so sad about this from the beginning of the difficulties in Lebanon has faced, we've seen a lot of the western countries and the United States also say that we will stand by you and we will be there by your side. The minute action started, everybody left the Lebanese alone. We need these Lebanese people; we need the Lebanese government to succeed. You know how Lebanon over the past twenty years has been able to really rise up from the rubble to build their country move in the future. It's being knocked back into the Stone Age.

BBC: Is the United States not listening to voices like yours?

King Abdullah: I know what all of us have been saying to them: that we need a ceasefire as quickly as possible. The discussions that we've had with the leadership in those countries is that we understand we need to move to a ceasefire as quickly as possible. We're not seeing it on the ground.

BBC: So when you say that to the United States, when you say that to Tony Blair, to George W. Bush: we need an immediate ceasefire, and they don't listen to you, they don't listen to the Lebanese leaders, how do you read that?

King Abdullah: The discussions that I've had with both President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair is I think they were extremely concerned about the escalation of violence, about civilian casualties, about the infrastructure so they were seeing it, the same way I was. They felt that maybe they have a different way, as we're seeing in the United Nations, on how to be able to achieve it, of trying to get a final ceasefire and moving to the political process. We, I think, as the Arab countries and Lebanon, also see it slightly differently, and again I am hoping that you know, we can bridge those differences in the United Nations in the next couple of days. If not, then this thing is going to continue for a few more days or weeks, and the loss of lives on either side are going to continue. The more that happens, the more difficult it is for us to put the differences behind and get people to the table.

BBC: Do you worry that Hezbollah appears to have been strengthened, not destroyed in this war?

King Abdullah: I don't think anybody wins in this war, and …

BBC: Hezbollah definitely judged by the reaction on the Arab street..

King Abdullah: I think there is a lot of emotional response to Hezbollah because at the end of the day, a lot of Arabs feel that this is a resistance group that is fighting against an occupying power, and we've seen that in other Arab territories, and how long is this going to continue? You can't destroy Hezbollah, not as a movement. So, okay you have the bombs today, tomorrow, or after tomorrow, we will have another Hezbollah, if not in Lebanon, we'll have it maybe in Jordan, we'll have it in Egypt, we'll have it elsewhere if we don't solve the core issues. And again, the core issue is the Israeli-Palestinian one, and the Israeli-Arab one, if we don't solve these problems, then for the next ten, fifteen, twenty years it's going to get worse and worse and worse, Israelis, Arabs, Palestinians are going to pay for it, but also the international community. We are actually being sucked into an abyss, and the moderate countries that are now standing out there saying look, what the hell is going on, we're being marginalised.

BBC: So the whole region has become radicalised…

King Abdullah: As this issue continues, so does it become more radical and the moderate countries are becoming less emboldened to stick their necks out because you know, we believe that the international community will stand behind Lebanon to try and safeguard the future of the Lebanese people. The Lebanon that we knew is dead now. Now the challenge for us is do we have a chance to build a new page for Lebanon, a good one, or is this going to just go into destructive mode and suck the rest of us into this issue?

BBC: You feel cornered then; you have close ties with Washington, which you need. You have a peace deal with Israel, but the streets are saying to you that Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief is the new Arab hero.

King Abdullah: Well, I don't think we're cornered in a way that we feel that we're going to give up, but I think that the United States, Britain, the European countries, as well as Israel have got to listen to what we are saying. We are partners for peace but we're not seeing the partners, sort of, challenging us at the same level.

BBC: Why aren't they listening? Because many have interpreted this as being a green light for Israel to destroy Hezbollah. Well, why aren't they listening? What is their agenda then?

King Abdullah: Well, the problem is I don't think there is an agenda out there. I think its piecemeal ways of dealing with the situation, whether it's the Israeli-Palestinian one, whether it's Lebanon, or whether it's Iraq or the issue of Iran. I don't think there is an overall strategy, and this is why I think the Egyptians, and Jordanians, and Saudis, with a lot of the Arab countries, are trying to get a unified position, because we're not seeing the international community dealing with the issues in the Middle East comprehensively. Each time we have a crisis, it gets far more unstable, and the endgame, or where we're going to be leading as the Middle East in the future, is very dim. I can't read the political map of the Middle East anymore, because I just see so many heavy clouds that are over our shoulders at this stage and I really feel and fear for the future of the Middle East.

BBC: Condoleezza Rice called it the birth pangs of a new Middle East, but it …

King Abdullah: A new Middle East? the way I'm looking at this new Middle East, I'm seeing what is happening in Somalia, I'm seeing what's happening in Gaza, I see what's happening in Lebanon, I'm seeing what's happening in Iraq. This is a new Middle East?

BBC: When you say the radicals, do you believe Iran has an agenda? They're obviously the main backers of Hezbollah.

King Abdullah: Well, I think that our concern is whenever you have regional power plays, which is what we're seeing in the Middle East today, that are creating alliances throughout area for their specific agendas, and this is what we have to be very concerned about. And why we need to solve the Palestinian issue, and then lead on to the Lebanese one because if we don't solve, what can be considered maybe the petty problems even though they are the core problems, we are going to face more regional problems, that are going to suck countries in, from way further afield than the states that surround Israel.

BBC: What about your friends next door? You told Bashar Assad he has to choose whether he's part of an axis with Tehran or an axis with…

King Abdullah: Well, I think part of the unified Arab position that is being built is that we all need to know what all the actors are doing in the Middle East, what their position is; because it is these grey areas that I think are ticking time bombs. And we are trying to reach out to the Syrian government and get them to, once and for all identify to us, as a unified group what their position is, as opposed of coming to Jordan and saying something to Jordan, something else to Saudi Arabia, and something else to Egypt.

BBC: What did they respond to you? Do you think they could stop Hezbollah?

King Abdullah: Well, unfortunately, we've had this crisis, I think we will be needing, as I said, a unified Arab position on the issue of the Palestinians, Lebanon, Syrian and Iraq and the Iranian nuclear file.

BBC: Do you think that is what's behind this, the Iranian nuclear file?

King Abdullah: Well, there is a lot of different elements at play here, but I think that is part of the element if we are looking at sort of a fabric of the Middle East, then that's one integral part, because as we're saying, the problems that we're facing is the Palestinian future, Lebanon and its relationship with Syria, what's going on in Iraq and where Iran is heading into the future, and the nuclear card is one that has implications for the whole region, I don't think you can separate them, I think they are all interlinked.