Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Katie Couric
Today Show
15 September 2003

NBC: On close-up this morning: Mideast peace. This week His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan is visiting the United States. He'll meet President Bush at Camp David and also talk with members of Congress. Your Majesty, good morning and welcome back to "Today." Nice to see you.

King Abdullah: Good morning, Katie. Nice to see you too.

NBC: I know that your visit to the United States comes at a tricky and difficult time. Violence and bloodshed continue on a daily basis in two of your neighbouring countries: Iraq and Israel. Yet you come to Washington with a message of peace and reconciliation. Your Majesty, is that realistic?

King Abdullah: Well, I think, as I said earlier in the year, on promoting the peace process, we have to continue our efforts, because we've seen the alternative over the past three years of loss of life and destruction on both sides. And so we have to continue, as part of the international community, to push the peace process and to get both to left and to right of Jordan a calmer situation as quickly as possible.

NBC: I know that you hosted a summit in Aqaba with President Bush, Ariel Sharon and then-Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, but since then it seems things have deteriorated significantly, as you well know, with the latest incident being that Israel is calling for the expulsion and possibly the assassination of Yasser Arafat.

I know that your foreign minister condemned this action when it happened. Can you tell me personally what your reaction is?

King Abdullah: Well, I think it sets a very dangerous precedent to either expel President Arafat or, God forsake, assassinate him at a time when we're trying to calm the situation and break the cycle of violence. All this will do is create more animosity between the Israelis and Palestinians and more bloodshed.

And as I said in Aqaba, I was very optimistic as everybody came together to launch the roadmap. But I also said that we knew that the extremists were going to try and up the ante. So setbacks were something that we have to expect but what we all need to do is continue to strive forward to get the roadmap up and running as quickly as possible.

NBC: But what about Yasser Arafat? Is he a partner in peace? Can he be relied on to really go forward with the roadmap, in your view?

King Abdullah: Well, there have been difficulties inside the Palestinian Authority, which has only been at the price of the Palestinians themselves. It is unfortunate that Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas did hand in his resignation, but really quite understandable in the circumstances. He was not getting the support from his government and he could have been helped a lot more by the Israelis. Now in a way back...

NBC: Could he have been helped a little bit more by Yasser Arafat though, Your Majesty? Couldn't Yasser Arafat have stood behind him more firmly that he would have been more empowered and therefore gotten more support from the Palestinian people?

King Abdullah: I think that both President Arafat should have been more supportive of Mahmoud Abbas and the roadmap as well as the Israeli government. Mahmoud Abbas was given a tremendous challenge with very little tools to be able to do what was asked of him.

Now we're, sort of, back at the drawing board with a new prime minister, Abu Ala, who I have a great faith in, and we need to, sort of, get the process back and running. And hoping that both Arafat and the Israelis will be constructive to be able to get the process moving again.

NBC: But I don't mean to see the glass as half empty, but it is a very, sort of, depressing situation, as you know. You know, the ceasefire ended, Mahmoud Abbas, as we mentioned, quit, the suicide bombings began, Israel retaliated by targeting Hamas leaders. It seems to be such a vicious cycle. Is there another way it can be broken somehow?

King Abdullah: Well, no. I think the roadmap in itself is a very strong article. It is endorsed by everybody in the international community, including the United States. And we knew from...

NBC: Then why isn't it being followed, Your Majesty?

King Abdullah: Because there's not enough pressure being put on both sides to adhere to what was expected. And I think that both the Israelis and the Palestinians should be held more accountable.

NBC: By whom?

King Abdullah: By the international community and the United States.

NBC: How about by Jordan? Are you exerting enough pressure, in your view, on both sides?

King Abdullah: As you know very well, Katie, we have been working very hard with both sides to iron out the differences. Jordan, fortunately, has always played the honest broker, and so we have good relationships with both sides. And that has been, I think, a very positive part of the peace process.

But we need more international pressure to make sure that both sides adhere to what both sides know must be done.

NBC: Would you like the United States to be more involved?

King Abdullah: Well, the president himself is extremely dedicated, as you well know, and very sincere in seeing it resolved. But there are problems on the grounds that now have to be re-sorted out. We have now a new prime minister, and we have to see how we can get the new government up and running and in dialogue with the United States.

There are some outstanding issues, I know. Part of the reason for my visit here is to really think out of the box and to see what we can do with our friends here in the United States to get people back to dialogue and try and break the cycle of violence.

NBC: Let's move to Iraq if we could. Your embassy was bombed in Baghdad; 11 people were killed. The United States is now asking for more international troops, but Jordan refuses to commit any of its own, saying it is a, quote, "sensitive issue." Why?

King Abdullah: Well, I think, from a moral standpoint of view, it's not that we're frightened of committing troops any way in hot spots. As you know, we are committed in Afghanistan from actually day one with the United States in rebuilding that country.

But I think that any country that borders Iraq has its own agenda and maybe its own strategic intentions. And so I don't think, from a moral point of view, we're the right people to commit troops. And we'd like to see more of an international flavour.

I think it would be difficult for Iraqis having troops from its neighbouring countries, all wanting to have special relationships with Iraq, being, sort of, in a fair position.

We are actively in Iraq at the moment. We have a military field hospital that has treated thousands upon thousands of Iraqis and we are trying to help in rebuilding Iraq. But troops -- we are maybe not the right people.

NBC: Do you think the United States and the United Nations will be able to resolve their differences and a more international force will be deployed in Iraq?

King Abdullah: Well, I believe the president has called for that, and I think that, with the visit Colin Powell in Baghdad today, seeing from the ground what are the issues, I think the president is quite right in moving on his policy. And I know it's going to be a difficult struggle, but eventually the international community, with the United States, are going to be able to give Iraq the future that the Iraqi people want.

NBC: What grade would you give the Bush administration in terms of job it's doing in Iraq right now?

King Abdullah: Well, again, you know, it's -- you're not there. They're under tremendous pressure to move as quickly as possible.

I think the Iraqi interim government is a step in the right direction, but obviously we want to move that process as quickly as possible so that Iraqis themselves are deciding their future.

This is part of the president's policy, and he needs the help of the international community also to be able to move forward. And he's reached out to them and I hope that we, as the international community, will also share that responsibility.

NBC: You Majesty, King Abdullah of Jordan, thanks so much for talking with us this morning. And best of luck with your meetings all week long.

King Abdullah: Not at all, Katie.