Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Wolf Blitzer
Late Edition
28 July 2002

CNN: Your Majesty, thank you so much for joining us on Late Edition.

Let me begin with the news in the Middle East this past week, as you know, with the Israeli bombing in Gaza. What can be done now to stop what seems to be an almost tinder-like situation from exploding?

King Abdullah: Well, as has always been the case, the situation on the ground has been very, very frustrating for all of us. That means we just have to renew our efforts to try and move the process along.

What we are hoping to do in Washington is just add on to a series of visits to really get the Quartet moving in the right direction, to get a sequence of events that we will hope would lead to maybe an international conference later on this year.

CNN: When you refer to the Quartet, you're referring to the United States, Russia, the EU and the United Nations.

Specifically, Jordan, there's been some suggestion that Jordan might get directly involved, perhaps, in helping the Palestinian Authority establish a security force that could be more effective. Is Jordan ready to step back in and send some experts to the West Bank?

King Abdullah: I think we'd be very concerned of getting ourselves into Palestinian business. We always have felt that it's the Palestinians to decide how to move and how to get a transparent society going. Obviously, our relationship with the Palestinians and the Israelis put us in a position where we can move the process forward.

There haven't been any specific requests of Jordan to do anything inside the West Bank. And we'd be very cautious on any direct involvement in the West Bank, so as not to give the wrong signals.

CNN: There was some suggestion that the Jordanians could help train the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank and the Egyptians could help train the Palestinian security forces in Gaza. But as far as -- you're telling me that has not really come up seriously.

King Abdullah: Well, that did come up many years ago when the PA first went back straight after Oslo. We were asked to train Palestinian military units that are stationed in many Arab capitals -- Quwwat Bader, we call them, the Forces of Bader. We have a brigade-size unit in Jordan. And in those days, I was commander of special operations, and we did train that particular unit to go in as a police force, into the West Bank. But President Arafat, in those days, chose not to take them.

I presume that it’s probably the option that people are talking about now.

CNN: Since President Bush delivered his speech in which he said the Palestinians need new leadership, meaning leadership not including Yasser Arafat, where does the situation stand? Is that at all possible, that the Palestinians will come up with a new leadership?

King Abdullah: Well, if the Palestinians decide to come up with a new leadership, it's really their business. I think it's unfortunate when we get into the cycle of, as outsiders, trying to decide who should be the leaders of other people's countries.

I think the Palestinians realise that there is a final opportunity for a future for themselves, i.e. a viable Palestinian state, as the president articulated, in three years. They will want a transparent and efficient society. And I think we just have to leave it up to them to move that way.

But the only way that will happen is if we encourage them that there is actually a goal at the end of this hard path of trying to achieve peace and prosperity in the Middle East.

CNN: Former President Bill Clinton, who, as you know, was very active in trying to bring some sort of peace agreement to the region, spoke out on the subject in recent days. I want you to listen to what he said specifically about Yasser Arafat.


William Clinton, former US president: Mr. Arafat may find a way to share power that will be acceptable not only to America but to the Israelis. He, after all, is not getting any younger, and it's difficult to sustain the level of concentration and effort it takes to carry that workload every day.


CNN: Is the former president being overly optimistic that Yasser Arafat might step aside a little bit and delegate power to others?

King Abdullah: Well, you must understand that, inside the Palestinian society, there's a lot of discussions on what they want as a transparent, effective form of government that will see them to a Palestinian state. And so, there is a lot of discussions, philosophically, on the role that Arafat needs to play.

He's in a difficult situation with his own people. But at the end of the day, I believe, you know, it's a Palestinian issue, to decide whether Arafat has a future with his people, whether Arafat feels that he can achieve for them a viable Palestinian state. We're getting too much into the game of trying to decide what is the future of the Palestinians. At the end of the day, that is their responsibility and their right.

CNN: You say that you're hoping that the so-called Quartet could come up with some sort of international conference. But what would that achieve, in terms of easing the -- stopping the fighting, the violence that's been exploding in recent months?

King Abdullah: Well, unfortunately, the fighting and the violence is going to continue until, I think, both Israelis and Palestinians feel that the end-game is viable and in sight.

Now, the president articulated a vision of a Palestinian state within three years. The Arabs have articulated normalisation, peace and security with the Israelis. So the cards are all out there.

But to be able to really put a stop to the violence -- in other words, giving the people the power to control the extremists on either side that do not want peace -- is to move the process along.

And what we hope to do is, with the United States and the Quartet, is create a series of logical steps and responsibilities for Israelis and Palestinians to be able to move the process forward. And sooner or later, that will entail a ministerial meeting, international meeting, somewhere along the line, where you bring all the parties in to be able to set up the timeline and what is required of each side to do within the three-year timeframe that the president articulated.

CNN: As you know, many Palestinians, many Arabs don't believe that the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is seriously interested in achieving a viable settlement. Do you have confidence that he is?

King Abdullah: Well, again, this is what we're talking about. I think that, left to their own devices, Israelis and Palestinians will find it very difficult to move forward and to break the cycle of violence.

This is why the Quartet, the international community must come together to create a series of steps that will articulate what the president just said in his speech, i.e. a viable Palestinian state and security for Israel. Left to their own devices, we're not that confident. And therefore, we need to be able to say to both sides, “Look, this is what's going to be required of you.”

And we hope that our meetings in Washington will be just another opportunity to try and get some logical sequences established that will lead to stronger forms of coordination between the Israelis and the Palestinians to move the peace process forward.

CNN: Your Majesty, how does the stalemate, the violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians, affect the overall US war on terror in your part of the world, especially against the remaining Al Qaeda threat that's out there?

King Abdullah: Well, without talking about specifics, Al Qaeda or anything, definitely, the ongoing confrontation between the Israelis and the Palestinians has definitely delayed and hampered the international struggle against extremism.

I thought that the struggle was going extremely well after the 11th of September, but we've had our arms tied behind our backs, all of us in the international community, as a direct result of increased violence that is going on and the lack of moving the Palestinian-Israeli-Arab process forward.

So if, for the United States, terror and extremism is the number-one priority, we have to remind our friends in the United States that we need to move the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab issue forward if we're going to have a decent chance of eradicating extremism and terror around the world.

CNN: Does the same notion hold, as far as a US effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq is concerned? Because, as you know, there are many senior officials here in Washington who want to get going on that front as well.

King Abdullah: Well, I think we have been very clear in Jordan that we have always believed that dialogue with Iraq is the only option. And when I say "Jordan," I also can speak probably on behalf of anybody else in the international community, from China to Russia to all our colleagues in the European Union.

The problem is, is trying to take on the question of Iraq with the lack of positive movement on the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Arab track seems, at this point, somewhat ludicrous.

CNN: I want to show our viewers around the world a map of the region where Iraq is. You see Iraq right in the middle. Right next door is Jordan. There's been some speculation, military planners here, saying that if the US is going to invade or launch military action, Kuwait might be a launching pad, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, but Jordan as well.

Has there been any discussion at all between the US and Jordan about using Jordan as a base, as far as Iraq is concerned?

King Abdullah: No, there hasn't. And in actual fact, last week I spoke to senior American officials who apologised for some statements that came out in American newspapers and English newspapers that alluded to American forces being built up in Jordan. And that has not happened and, I don't think, will ever happen.

We do obviously have multinational exercises with NATO and American troops and Arab armies. We have for many decades, and we'll continue to have those. But there are no American troops stationed in Jordan.

And we got an apology from some senior American official that -- the way he described it to me is, "Some young officer in the American Pentagon probably tried to impress a girlfriend, wanted to come up with a story that there was something that he knew about and referenced Jordan." But we have no American troops in Jordan, at this stage.

CNN: So, just to be precise, Your Majesty, when you meet with President Bush in the coming days, you will discourage him from undertaking military action against this President Saddam Hussein of Iraq?

King Abdullah: Well, again, I think we've been very clear, we have always felt that dialogue is the best way of dealing with Iraq, trying to bring Iraq back into the international community, that we've always been concerned that the use of force might create tremendous instability in the Middle East, especially in the light that the movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front is not moving the way that we want.

When we go to Washington, we're not going to discuss Iraq. We're actually discussing twofold: one, moving the Israeli-Palestinian process forward, working with the Quartet, hopefully leading to an international conference.

And the second part of the visit is really to explain the humanitarian suffering that the Palestinian people are experiencing at the moment. There's a tremendous humanitarian crisis going on in the West Bank and Gaza, and we need to find a financial mechanism to be able to alleviate the social and economic frustration that the Palestinians are going through at this particular time.

CNN: We have only a few seconds left, Your Majesty, but many of us who knew and admired your late father, King Hussein, are looking toward you and asking, will you be following directly in your father's footsteps in getting more personally involved in trying to bring peace to the region?

King Abdullah: Well, obviously, this is something that we've all inherited from His Late Majesty, King Hussein, because he understood that bringing stability to our neighbours is stability for ourselves. And if we are ever as the Middle East -- Arabs, Israelis and anybody else in the area -- going to move forward, we have to resolve the problems on the ground.

So, yes, although my priority is moving my people and improving their lives, definitely, we are going to spend a lot of effort trying to help our neighbours resolve their differences, because that gives all of us a chance for the future.

CNN: Your Majesty, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you on your forthcoming visit to the United States, and hopefully we'll see you here in Washington, as well.

King Abdullah: Thank you. Thank you, Wolf. Look forward to that.