Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Antonio Ferrari
Corriere della Sera
27 September 2004

A message of hope: regal and reliable. An invaluable and reassuring message that might relieve the distress of Simona Pari's and Simona Torretta's families as well as of all Italians.

Your Majesty, tomorrow upon your arrival in Rome you will find a country in a state of shock. We cannot imagine what would happen if the two Italian girls, who are volunteers and messengers of peace, were to be killed. Do you really think they are alive?

King Abdullah of Jordan is a straightforward and honest leader. He looks the Corriere correspondent straight in the eyes, conveying his total solidarity and replies: “According to the information I have at the moment both girls are alive. As you well know, we have been working jointly with your government ever since their kidnapping. We are doing our best to locate them with the help of the intelligence services and have used our contacts with leaders and groups within Iraq to secure the release of the two girls. You see those are not Muslims who carry out brutal acts in the name of Islam. I am aware that the term “Muslim extremist” is being used; nevertheless, I think the extremists who in the name of God strike at defenceless people and disgrace man's dignity cannot be Muslims nor can they be Christians. No, those who can kill Russian children in Ossetia and kidnap two Italian volunteers working in Iraq to help the country build its future are not Muslims.

Corriere della Sera: Jordan has successfully secured the release of its hostages. I know you have important contacts particularly within the Sunni triangle. Can you extend your help? Will you have good news to convey to our government on Tuesday?

King Abdullah: “I have often identified myself with your grief, especially that I can feel the profound humanity of the Italian people. I was moved by the demonstrations and the candles lit up in the balconies of your homes in commemoration of the Russian children killed in a remote country. I am constantly impressed by your endless generosity. Nowadays we have to fight against the devil together. At times, we need to pay tribute to suffering to save innocent lives. We will do everything we can to help the two girls. I pray and hope to have good news by Tuesday. It would be marvellous.”

Corriere della Sera: How do you regard the relations between Jordan and Italy?

King Abdullah: “Excellent. I have a close relationship with your President, Ciampi and Prime Minister Berlusconi, who I wish to thank for his sustained support extended to my country. In the dire moments of the past years, you granted us constantly an additional 10 per cent of assistance. Italy plays an important international role. Hence and above all, we shall speak about Iraq in the course of my visit. If I may, I wish to say something: the Romans built roads; nowadays our motorway projects are Italian.”

Corriere della Sera: What is your idea of the kidnappers? Doesn't their strategy remind you of the 80s hostages crisis in Lebanon?

King Abdullah: “Yes, it does. Only now we have two kinds of kidnappers: the religious extremists, who are more dangerous and inhuman as they do care about Law and the rights of the individual. They are just terrorists. The second group consists of criminal organisations. They kidnap people for money. It goes without saying that it is a lot easier to get something from criminals. It only means business to them.”

Corriere della Sera: How can the vicious circle be undone?

King Abdullah: “The only solution is to reinforce the current Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Allawi. There are no alternatives. I have constantly believed that dismantling the Iraqi armed forces is a mistake. Having 10per cent of the former army back in service could very well mean pulling 40,000 unemployed people off the streets. In fact, I am sad and frustrated when I think of the challenges Facing Prime Minister Allawi. We have to help this government restore stability because if it fails the alternative will be worse. It is a matter of moral obligation. We have assumed the responsibility to train 30,000 Iraqi policemen and thousands of soldiers, yet from the very first day I have stated we need time. I am a soldier myself and know that certain standards cannot be achieved overnight.”

Corriere della Sera: In your opinion, why was the former army dismantled and the medical staff in hospitals along with teachers asked to go home?

King Abdullah: “The reason is that certain Iraqi exiles - Chalabi was one of them - did not want the army to be part of the new institutions. They knew that stability in Iraq would diminish their role. On the other hand, people like Chalabi thought they could keep control if chaos prevailed.

Corriere della Sera: Do you mean that Chalabi made the Americans commit this mistake?

King Abdullah: “In my opinion, based on what is happening presently, people like Chalabi bear the responsibility. Are you aware that nowadays he entertains good contacts with Iran? The Pentagon does not interest him any more as he has crossed now over to Teheran. There are still some Americans who think he is a good man.”

Corriere della Sera: Do you think that elections will be held at the beginning of 2005?

Abdullah: “I know that Prime Minister Allawi continues to re-assert their commitment to the schedule. As an international observer, I do not think that the current instability may allow the country to go to the polls in January.”

Corriere della Sera: Your Majesty, a few months ago Jordan thwarted a group that was preparing a deadly attack against your country by means of explosive material and chemicals. You stated that the terrorists could have killed 80,000 people at least. The brains of this plan is a Jordanian citizen, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, who is at present the strategist of the terror surge in Iraq. What is your opinion about Zarqawi? Who is this man?

King Abdullah: “As far as I know, he was some sort of a street thug in the town of Zarqa. Definitely, he was not known for his intellect or brilliance. Unexpectedly, he ended up in Al Qaeda's network after his past as a common criminal and drunkard. Zarqawi has now become a problematical element in Iraq, where in my opinion he is given undeserved merit. At this point I would like to approach the issue of the role of the mass media.”

Corriere della Sera: Your Majesty, what do you mean?

King Abdullah: “Allowing terrorists unlimited space in the press and on television increases their power. I do not believe it is possible to stamp out all groups of kidnappers, but if the international community, as a whole, decided not to permit the usage of the media as a means of propaganda - like circulating images with the humiliations the hostages undergo, the problem might be solved partially. Of course, certain pictures cause sensation, they are not of help to us but rather afford terrorists free publicity.”

Corriere della Sera: The American Secretary for Defense, Rumsfeld stated that the American soldiers might quit even before the completion of the peace process in Iraq. Do you agree? In other words: do you believe that the foreign armed forces, including the Italians, are to stay or quit?

King Abdullah: “It is not up to me to pass judgments on the resolutions taken at national levels by various countries. Theoretically, we all hope that foreign soldiers will quit as soon as possible, restoring the full responsibility to the Iraqis. Yet, the realities on the ground compel the coalition forces to stay for some more time to help the Iraqi society consolidate its position.”

Corriere della Sera: Do you believe there will be changes due to the presidential elections in the United States?

King Abdullah: “I do not think that America's commitment in Iraq, whether George Bush is going to be confirmed as President or John Kerry wins the elections, will alter substantially.”

Corriere della Sera: The conflict in Palestine is deteriorating constantly. Do you believe the decision of the Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to quit Gaza and dismantle the Jewish settlements in the Strip is an opportunity not to be missed?

King Abdullah: “It depends on what the end of the process is. The pullout from Gaza and dismantling of settlements is a positive step forward since it follows the directives of the roadmap. However, if breaking up settlements in one location means establishing others somewhere else, well this might bring about more problems.”

Corriere della Sera: It appears you still have faith in the roadmap.

King Abdullah: “There are no other alternatives. It is the only structured and well-balanced plan to guarantee rights to Israelis and Palestinians. You see, for the first time ever there is the fear that there are no longer elements left to witness an acceptable Palestinian state emerge, since it is clear that the area of the territories has been reduced. In 1998, in Taba, 98 per cent of the land entered in the estimations; nowadays that figure has come down to 48-50 per cent. What will the size of the Palestinian state be like in two years from now? You can see that we, Jordanians may pay the price for it.”

Corriere della Sera: Do you consider President Arafat as part of the problem or as part of the solution?

King Abdullah: “I believe the Palestinian leadership, and not only Arafat, are at the moment part of the problem because the conflict at top levels allows the Israeli Premier to insist he has no partner to carry on the dialogue. Therefore, it is not the fault of the Arab countries or the international community if Palestine diminishes day by day. I believe the Palestinian leadership needs to stay united and work in harmony otherwise the situation will worsen.”

Corriere della Sera: Your Majesty, this year in Jordan the most impressive demonstration against terrorism, ever to take place in the Arab world, has occurred. Your spouse, Queen Rania was its very spirit and soul. Do you think the silent majority in the Muslim world has to wake up now, condemn at once loud and clear, a devastating terrorism that in fact strikes at true Islam in the first place?

King Abdullah: “Absolutely. Not only in Jordan. The entire Islamic community must cast discredit on these terrorists, who exploit our religion for their own aims. I fear the currently circulating rumour: not every Muslim is a terrorist but every terrorist is a Muslim. This is what we need to combat. The terrorists' real target is not Christianity but rather the majority of moderate, sensible Muslims. At this point, we have to speak up, loud and clear, but this is not enough. Wherever the extremists may hide away, we must fight them with facts and actions. The problem is that the silent majority is always on defence. Now is the time to act.”