By: George Stephanopoulos
For: ABC - This Week
26 November 2006
ABC: Good morning, everyone. This week's flare-up of violence in Iraq has been met by a flurry of new diplomacy. Vice President Cheney has just returned from a one-day visit to Saudi Arabia, and President Bush is heading to Amman this week for a summit with the Iraqi prime minister, hosted by our headliner this morning, King Abdullah of Jordan.
Welcome back to “This Week,” Your Majesty.
King Abdullah: Thank you very much, George.
ABC: Is this Amman summit the last chance to save Iraq?
King Abdullah: Well, we hope that this is an opportunity for both President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki to be able to come together in a common understanding on how to bring the sectarian conflict much lower. We are very, very concerned for the future of all Iraqis, and we hope that there will be something dramatic. The challenges, obviously, in front of both of them are immense.
ABC: You say, “something dramatic.” What could that be?
King Abdullah: Well, we have to make sure that all parties in Iraq understand the dangers of the ongoing escalation, and I hope that Prime Minister Maliki will have some ideas to be provided to the president on how he could be inclusive in bringing all the different sects inside of Iraq together. And they need to do it now, because, obviously, as we're seeing, things are beginning to spiral out of control.
ABC: Many here in the United States say that, if Prime Minister Maliki doesn't come forward with that kind of a package, President Bush should issue an ultimatum: It has to happen now or we're going to begin to withdraw our troops from Iraq. Would that be useful?
King Abdullah: Well, I'm not exactly privy to what the discussion points will be between both sides. But there needs to be some very strong action taken on the ground there today. Obviously, the indicators are of tremendous concern to all of us, and I don't think we're in a position where we can come back and revisit the problem in early 2007. There needs to be a strategy. There needs to be a plan that brings all the parties together, and bring them today and not tomorrow.
ABC: Is it a civil war in Iraq right now?
King Abdullah: Well, George, the difficulty that we're tackling with here is, we're juggling with the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it's the Palestinians, that of Lebanon or of Iraq. And I hope that my discussions, at least, with the president will be to provide whatever we can do for the Iraqi people. But at the same time, we do want to concentrate ourselves on the core issues, which we believe are the Palestinians and the Palestinian peace process, because that is a must today, as well as the tremendous concern we've had over the past several days, what's happening in Lebanon. And we could possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands. And therefore, it is time that we really take a strong step forward as part of the international community and make sure we avert the Middle East from a tremendous crisis that I fear, and I see could possibly happen in 2007.
ABC: That is a frightening prospect, the prospect of three civil wars. All three of those societies -- Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority -- have had elections over the last couple of years. And now we're seeing the prospect of civil war. Could the United States push too hard, too fast for democracy?
King Abdullah: The issue is not whether you're pushing one agenda or another. The issue is, we have not been able to deal with the core problem of the Middle East. Now, I know people will say that there are several core problems in the Middle East. Obviously, the closest to American minds, because of your commitments of soldiers is Iraq. But for the majority of us living in this part of the world, it has always been the Israeli-Palestinian, the Israeli-Arab problem. And I fear that if we do not use the next couple of months to really be able to push the process forward, I don't believe that there will be anything to talk about. In other words, there will not be enough of circumstances to create a two-state solution -- in other words, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and harmony. If we don't solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, then how can we ever solve the Israeli-Arab problem? And I don't believe that beyond mid 2007, if we don't get the process going, there will be anything of a Palestine to talk about. And therefore, do we resign this whole region to another decade or two of violence, which none of us can afford.
ABC: Secretary of State Baker is considering just that prospect, pushing for a comprehensive peace plan as he looks at solutions for Iraq, as well. But help me out here. Doesn't the situation in Iraq now have a logic of its own, the Sunnis and the Shiites killing each other in an uncontrolled manner? What does that have to do with what's going on in Palestine?
King Abdullah: Well, the thing is, as we look at the three potential flash points, before, I believe, the Lebanese war this summer, I would have put Iraq in the number one position. After the Lebanese war, the Palestinian scenario was in the number one position, followed very closely in the past several weeks. I would say that the Lebanese problem and the Palestinian ones are neck-in-neck. They're all extremely important. Solving all three of them is going to be critical. But the priority I believe today in the long term is the Israeli-Palestinian one, because it resonates beyond the borders of Iraq, beyond the borders of the Arab and the Muslim world. And you know, you've been with this issue for many years. It is still the emotional core issue for our part of the world. The problem when we discuss this sometimes with the American public, they say, no, this is just an excuse, because there are other problems in the Middle East. But the emotional impact that the Israeli-Palestinian problem has on the ground can be translated to the insecurity and the frustrations throughout the Middle East and the Arab world. For me, that is the priority. When it comes to things exploding out of control, I would put today, as we stand, Palestine and probably a close tie with Lebanon. Iraq, funny enough, although as concerned as I am with Iraq and the major problems that that might bring to us, is in third position. Obviously, this is all relative.
ABC: Well, one of the ideas for dealing with all three of these conflicts is an international conference that would include Jordan, would include Saudi Arabia, would include Egypt and include the United States, but also Syria and Iran. Do you think it would be useful to include Syria and Iran in that kind of a conference right now? And what kind of leverage does the US have over that?
King Abdullah: Well, look. We always believe that dialogue is a way of reaching out to each other. As we continue to push each other into corners, then the only alternative is to have more of a violent reaction than common sense leading the way. I do believe that there are feelers going to different countries to see if we can come together on the issue of Iraq. But I think, the problem is, is that America needs to look at it in the total picture. It's not just one issue by itself. I keep saying Palestine is the core. It is linked to the extent of what's going on in Iraq. It is linked to what's going on in Lebanon. It is linked to the issues that we find ourselves with the Syrians. So, if you want to do comprehensive -- comprehensive means bringing all the parties of the region together.
ABC: And does it also mean -- when you talk about a reinvigorated US effort, what are you looking for exactly? What kind of a sign are you expecting from the United States to prove that the Bush administration is serious about seeking this kind of comprehensive effort? One idea being floated right now is that former Secretary of State Baker be appointed a special envoy by President Bush. Would that be useful?
King Abdullah: Well, from my point of view, I've known Secretary Baker for many years. He was a good friend of His Late Majesty King Hussein. He has a tremendous, strong reputation in this part of the world as being an honest broker. Obviously, that's a decision for the American president and his administration. But he is probably -- Secretary Baker is one of the qualified (ph) people I've ever come across in being able to deal with Middle East issues.
ABC: King Abdullah, thank you very much for your time this morning.
King Abdullah: Thank you.