Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Randa Habib
Agence France Presse (AFP)
29 September 2003

AFP: During your recent visit to the US, the situation in Iraq was one of the key points of discussion. To what extent can Jordan cooperate in Iraq, in light of the probable voting of a new UN resolution based on a US draft seeking to enlarge the UN role in Iraq?

King Abdullah: The situation in Iraq affects all the countries in the region, Once Iraq develops into a modern democratic and stable country, the whole Middle East will become more stable. We therefore have to ensure that Iraq is back as soon as possible into the international community as a sovereign, stable, self-governing Arab country.

I discussed with President Bush the future of Iraq and I think that everyone including the United States is working to make sure the Iraqis regain sovereignty. However there is a disagreement on the timing of the transfer of sovereignty due to the deteriorating security situation according to the US.

We in Jordan are all for accelerating the process as much as possible to give the Iraqis the chance to govern themselves. We hope the current talks in the United nations will result in an agreement on a Security Council resolution addressing peacekeeping in Iraq. We believe that giving the international community a larger role is a vital in the reconstruction of Iraq and we will support any resolution in that direction.

So I think that if you are in the United States or in France or anywhere else in the world, we at the end of the day want the same thing, a future for Iraq and the Iraqi people.

AFP: President Bush said he is opposed to a "hurried" transfer to self-rule in Iraq. However, many analysts back the French call for a speedy return of sovereignty to Baghdad. Do you believe that there could be a middle ground to take practical measures that would bolster Iraqi sovereignty in a symbolic way?

King Abdullah: I believe we are all calling for a transfer of sovereignty and governance to the Iraqi people as soon as possible. As I said earlier, the disagreement is over timing. The US feels that the transfer of authority now to an unelected government is not timely. President Chirac is committed to see the Iraqis taking control of their land as soon as possible.

And I know it is going to be a difficult struggle, but I think eventually France, the international community and the United States, will be able to agree on a timeframe to give the Iraqis self government.

AFP: Could Jordan use its expertise in helping train Iraqi security forces?

King Abdullah: At the moment, we are in the final stages to prepare for training in Jordan a little over 30,000, Iraqis. There will be eight- week course, and every course will be attended by 1, 500 Iraqis. Soon we will receive the first batch of 3,000.

There will be also training for instructors, and an initial 100 Iraqi instructors will be trained in the Jordanian police academy. Probably there will be also some training for the military. But having Jordanian soldiers or policemen walking in the streets of Iraq, I don't think it is fair to the Iraqis, nor to any of its neighbours. We told the Iraqis, anything you want from our institutions, "Ahlan Wa Sahlan" (You 're welcome), here in Jordan, but to go there, I think it is sensitive.

AFP: You were one of the latest world leaders to visit Iran at a time when it is facing mounting international pressure over its nuclear programme as well as the perception that it is not dong enough to help fight terrorism. Did you sense a change of heart in Iranian position?

King Abdullah: I believe that the best way to tackle this issue with Iran is through dialogue. During my recent visit, I felt their willingness to engage positively with the international community to resolve the nuclear arms dispute and other issues of concern.

On the issue of terrorism, I think they are willing to cooperate and engage in dialogue to move forward in the international fight against terror. They also expressed to me their concern of further deterioration of the situation in Iraq and fears of Iraq becoming a base for terrorist activity inside and outside Iraq.

AFP: .You yourself have written a very eloquent opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times about how some Arab and Muslim (terrorists) have harmed the true image of Islam through their acts? What other action can be taken by Jordan particularly to help in the fight against global terrorism?

King Abdullah: Jordan and other Arab and Islamic countries are committed to fighting terrorism and do play significant role in the global alliance against terror. My article in the Los Angeles Times was to clarify some misconceptions regarding Islam. We have a responsibility to speak up and make the voice of silent Muslim majority about the true Islam be heard.

Jordan is leading the way and is determined to spread Islam's promise of tolerance, justice and progress, both within our own country and for peacemaking and democratic reform in the region.

AFP: Your Majesty, the Middle East peace process continues to be in shambles and many have said the "roadmap" is agonising if not dead. How can Jordan, with the help of other Arab countries join forces with the European Union to reactivate Palestinian-Israeli peace talks? In particular what support can be given to Ahmed Qureia's new government?

King Abdullah: During my recent visit to the US, I warned that the death of the roadmap at this stage will be disastrous. The roadmap is crucial and we need from everybody including the EU and the US to put pressure on both sides to move forward on revitalising it quickly to get the peace process back on track.

We must support Abu Alaa and his new government to succeed. The Israelis must do so as well in order to help Abu Alaa's government fulfil its obligations towards the Palestinians and toward keeping security and stability in the Palestinian territories. Israel must stop its military provocations, settlement activity, building of the dividing wall and the policy of assassinations and the Palestinians must stop their extremist violent actions.

AFP: Would Jordan be willing to return its ambassador to Israel as an incentive to give more support to the peace process?

King Abdullah: If the success of the peace process rests on the return of the Jordanian ambassador to Israel, we will ensure our ambassador's immediate return to Tel Aviv.

AFP: As part of its efforts to improve its economy, Jordan has hosted and plans many conferences and events focusing on the post-war reconstruction effort in Iraq. What are some of the contracts that interest Jordan and its business community in Baghdad? What share will it get?

King Abdullah: The Jordanian private sector has had a long and productive relationship with Iraqi companies. The knowledge and expertise that they command in Iraq can be tapped in the efforts aimed at reconstruction in Iraq. Bur perhaps more importantly it is the future economic relationship with Iraq that is of significance.

We would like for a sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship to be established underpinned by strong private sector cooperation. Jordan has had a very rich experience in restructuring its economic sectors and identifying its engines of growth. We also have a successful track record in privatisation of state owned enterprises and of economic activities. Iraq can benefit of our experience. In addition, Jordanian companies now have a competitive edge in areas such as software development, pharmaceutical production, tourism, and legal service, among others. We believe that such sectors can provide a real platform of cooperation between Jordan and the US. In addition, we can assist Iraqis in capacity building while they are reconstructing their country.