Amman, Asharq Al-Awsat- Jordan is the security radar for all Arabs. By virtue of its geography and history, this state is one of true confrontation – in Jordan all waves of Arab currents collide. Jordan plays a vital role in the events of the hour, the most important feature of which is its monarch’s clear vision.
Asharq Al-Awsat interviewed King Abdullah II in his western Amman residence. The interview took place following his meeting with Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf who has embarked on a tour of regional states.
As is customary, King Abdullah II was frank and straightforward, a king who does not need extended explanations to support the posed questions. Once a subject is broached, he responds in answers that are direct and to the point.
The significance of the interview with King Abdullah II stems from the relevance of Jordan, territorially and politically alike. Across the state’s borders, winds blow carrying all that comes from its neighbors of good and evil. Leaving the international airport, a sign attracts the attention; it reads ‘Saudi-Iraqi border’ – and this should suffice. The sign presents two models that cannot be ignored; one of stability and the adoption of an approach against the interference in the affairs of others, which is Saudi Arabia, and the other of Iraq, in the aftermath of a coup following 30 years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, rampant with wars soon to be followed by the fall of the regime unto the present ghoulish face of civil war and what ensued as an influx of 700,000 refugees into Jordan.
Not far is Israel, with its occupation of Palestinian land, and Jordan territories before it. Today, amidst the disaster that is the Israeli occupation of Palestine, an internal sedition between the Palestinians looms close. If you arrive to Amman from London, the point of entrance into the Jordanian airspace starts as soon as you exit the Syrian capital, Damascus’s airspace, with whom the relations “regrettably do not live up to expectations on a political level,” according to King Abdullah II.
Outside of Jordan’s borders creeps the specter of terrorism; King Abdullah II confirms that the terrorism operations that Jordan has suffered have had their sources and elements come from abroad. When asked about the sources supplying terrorists groups with arms, he unhesitatingly answered, “They came from some neighboring countries, regrettably.”
During the interview, one senses the king’s apprehension and concern over the Palestinian cause – he was disturbed by what was taking place between the Palestinians and in the Palestinian arena inasmuch as with the situations in Iraq and Lebanon. And yet one senses that he is more optimistic about 2007, considering the cruelty of the past year, “a year,” according to King Abdullah II, “in which everyone learned something,” he said before proceeding with the interview.
The king cautioned against the interference in the Arab states’ internal affairs and of playing up sectarianism. He also warned that if there was still no solution for the Palestinian cause this year that everyone will pay the price, likewise warning Iran against destabilizing Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq.
In the interview, the king outlined his vision on dealing with all the currents in his country, including Islamist groups, warning that he would not be lenient with those who follow agendas other than the Jordanian agenda, moreover indicating the red lines for any group that does not succumb to the Jordanian system. He stressed the need for democracy but cautioned against those who employ a one-time use of democracy in order to achieve their own ends.
King Abdullah II did not hesitate in revealing his vision on the policy of the axis in the region, saying “I would like to ask here, that if the US and Israel are described as one axis, and Iran and some political powers in Syria are described as another, and if the Arabs decided to form another group that is aligned with neither one side nor the other, would that be treason? Treason is to forge alliances with enemies of the nation, against its aspirations.”
Following is the full text of the interview:
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, Rice recently visited the region in an effort to revive the peace process in Palestine and to deal with the situation in Iraq. How do you evaluate this visit, and how do you view American policy in general in the region at this stage?
(King Abdullah II) We have recently started to see more seriousness towards the conflict in Palestine from American officials, and during US President George Bush’s visit to Jordan and my latest meeting with Secretary Rice, I have felt an American readiness and commitment to forge ahead in implementing the two-state vision. We’ve also started hearing from them proposals regarding final status issues, such as Jerusalem and refugees. I would like to say that the game has changed after the Lebanon war, and the players have changed, and everyone, foremost among them Israel, should realize that unless we resolve the conflict in Palestine this year, everyone will pay the price. Israel should realize that a just solution that ensures the restoration of legitimate Palestinian rights and that results in the establishment of a fully sovereign Palestinian state on Palestinian land, living in peace and security alongside Israel, is the only guarantee of peace and security in the region. Otherwise our region will witness new catastrophes similar to what happened in Lebanon. I would add that the conflict in Palestine is the core conflict in the region. We hope that the international community realizes that issues in the region are interconnected. They must be addressed comprehensively in order to secure everyone’s interests and end the state of despair and frustration among the people and stop the slide towards extremism, violence and terrorism in our region. This must be taken into consideration.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, you spoke of a Shiite crescent. This sparked a storm of criticism, especially from Shiaa-based parties in Iraq and Lebanon. Do you still think this was the right term, and do you feel that it was misunderstood?
(King Abdullah II) I would rather not delve into descriptions here and there, and I am well aware that the Arab Shiaa believe in their nation and their Arabism and seek goodwill and unity for their nation. When I spoke of the Shiite crescent, the question was one of political alignments. I was not using the word in a sectarian sense. We see issues from the perspective of regional security and stability; not from narrow interests. The issue is not one of slogans. It is one of focusing on grave realities, dangers and challenges faced by the Middle East, which threaten the security and the future of the region’s people, who continue to suffer the consequences of war, infighting and sectarian strife. We have warned of the dangers and repercussions of this several times. We are members of the Aal Al Bayt and Hashemites. Throughout history, we have been uniters who seek to serve the umma and its causes. We have provided shelter to anyone escaping fitna and sectarian strife, provoked by those who seek to divide the umma and squander its energies and capabilities. If we are to seek what is good for our umma and secure a bright and prosperous future for its people, all Muslims, Sunni and Shiaa, must build on what unites them. They must put aside their differences and prevent external interference in their affairs. They should also reject intervention from those states who see this region as a field to implement their designs at the expense of peoples’ security and stability. As everyone knows, the Shiaa and Sunni have lived in harmony for years in several countries and we hope this co-existence will continue. Jordan hopes to avert religious and sectarian differences which could serve the political agenda of any other country. This would bring destruction to our region and threaten global security.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, I was told by concerned Iraqis that a high-ranking Iranian official had commented on your remarks about the Shiite crescent by saying that Iran was looking forward to a full Shiite moon, not just a Shiite crescent. Do you think the moon is full?
(King Abdullah II) Once again, let’s not delve into these labels. We’re dealing with serious challenges to our future, and we robustly seek to preserve the interests of the Muslim nation, as well as its identity. We stand against anyone who tries to inject poison into its body. All attempts to undermine its achievements will, with God’s will, fail due to greater awareness of the dangers facing us. We hope that effective regional powers would address issues out of concern for the security of the region’s people and not out of narrow interests and a desire to expand their influence. As for Iran, we would like to see a balanced and positive relationship between Iraq and Iran and between Arab states and Iran. We also see that Iran should stop seeking to destabilize Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq or any other country of the region so that we can build constructive relations.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, how do you see Iran’s role in the region, especially in Iraq?
(King Abdullah II) The situation in Iraq, as you know, is complicated and extremely dangerous. It is painful to see the continuation of violence that has nothing to do with religion or humanity, as does incitement. We hope that the efforts of all Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran, would be focused on helping Iraq out of its crisis and preventing it from slipping into an all-encompassing civil war, the repercussions of which will reverberate throughout the region. This will increase frustration and conflict. I want to say that Iran, one of Iraq’s powerful neighbors, with strong influence which we hope would be positive because the continuation of fitna in this country would scorch the earth throughout the region.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, are you concerned about the possibility of Iraq’s territorial disintegration and how serious is this threat?
(King Abdullah II) If the status quo continues, and the level of violence and security chaos, as well as attempts to obstruct national reconciliation among the Iraqi people, then the threat of cantonization in which small, weak states compete over the remains of a country with profound historical roots, all Iraqis, no matter their sect, will lose.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, how pervasive is sectarianism in Iraq, and how can it be confronted?
(King Abdullah II) There is no question that if sectarianism deepens and spreads, its destructive effects will reflect on everyone. It will foster division, polarization and isolationism. Consequently, our region will drown in a conflict the end of which cannot be foreseen. Religious scholars, opinion makers and intellectual leaders should raise their voices to spread awareness and warn about the threat this poses to the security of the region and its people. Countries of the region and their leaderships should be working together to form a united front against this serious challenge.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, lately there has been talk of the demographic bomb in Jordan, due to the large number of refugees within the country. How do you see this situation?
(King Abdullah II) Jordan has always been the refuge of those escaping conflict in our region. It is the world’s largest per capita host of refugees and all those escaping the hell of war. We receive those escaping dire circumstances for humanitarian reasons. These people found a safe refuge in Jordan, where they are provided a decent and stable life. But it does put a strain on our infrastructure and our natural resources. In spite of this, we will not abandon our humanitarian role, and we will continue to support them until circumstances are such that they can return to their countries.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, there are a large number of Iraqi refugees, some of whom are Baathists and several members of Saddam Hussein’s family, as well as former Iraqi officials. What sort of pressure does their presence in Jordan place on the country, and is this a cause of concern considering the situation in Iraq?
(King Abdullah II) Thank God we’ve so far had no problems with the Iraqi presence in Jordan. Despite our small size and abilities and our limited natural resources, we share with the Iraqis our livelihood and we provide them with facilities and services and will do so until they can return to their country and partake in Iraq’s reconstruction. Jordan since its founding has been – and will continue to be – a refuge for anyone who seeks it, especially our Arab brethren. The important thing is that whoever lives on Jordanian soil must respect the laws and regulations of this country and preserve its security and stability. That includes the Iraqis living in Jordan. I want to stress, again, that while we foster our historic relations with Iraqis, whether in Iraq or those living among us (their number exceeds 700,000), we will never allow Jordan to become a staging ground for initiating problems within Iraq.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, the execution of Saddam Hussein and later Barazan and Awwad Al Bandar have sparked a huge debate in the Arab world and Iraq. What is your view of this issue?
(King Abdullah II) There was a huge public outcry in the Arab world after the execution of Saddam Hussein. Even the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki acknowledged that there were mistakes during the execution. The issue could have been dealt with in a way that did not feed sectarianism and violence. We had hoped that this would have been addressed differently. What concerns us now, however, is to see Iraqis overcome the consequences of this issue and work to stop all those who seek to drive a wedge between Iraqis. We hope that all Iraqi political forces, regardless of their religious and sectarian affiliations, will allow dialogue to lead them towards national reconciliation and will encourage all Iraqis to be involved in the political process to ensure Iraq’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, we now see a conflict between Fatah and Hamas in Palestine, and the March 14 forces and the Siniora government on one side and the Hezbollah-led opposition on the other in Lebanon. Are we seeing a division of two axes – the moderate Arab axis (including Saudi, Jordan and Egypt) and another in Syria, supported by Iran? Do you agree with this analysis?
(King Abdullah II) There has been much talk lately about axes and alliances, and labeling them as moderate or extremist axes. I strongly believe that the Arabs should have one voice and one position and that there should be Arab understanding of events around us. We should have a common position on the challenges that we face at this moment and we should ensure that words should be translated into deeds. What is happening in the region is of grave concern to us because we know its repercussions will be very serious. This, frankly, requires us to work together and speak as one to confront these dangers. I would like to ask here, that if the US and Israel are described as one axis, and Iran and some political powers in Syria are described as another, and if the Arabs decided to form another group that is aligned with neither one side nor the other, would that be treason? Treason is to forge alliances with enemies of the nation, against its aspirations. We want a united Arab position. If the US has a position, and if Iran has a position, why are there those who feel that it is unreasonable for Arab states to have a position?
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty there has been much talk lately about contacts between Israel and Syria. How do you view negotiations between them, and if this were to move forward, how will this reflect on Jordan concerning your relations with the Syrians? What is the status of your relations with Syria today?
(King Abdullah II) I will start with the last question. Our economic and social relations with Syria are progressing naturally. We exchange visits and expertise in education, banking and financing. Politically speaking, our relations are unfortunately not up to expectations. Concerning negotiations on the Syrian track, Jordan has always believed in the need to achieve progress on all tracks, including the Syrian-Israeli track, ever since the Madrid Peace Conference. We support any step in the direction of real impetus to the peace process, with the aim of achieving comprehensive, just and permanent peace. But we need to realize that the Palestinian cause constitutes the core Arab-Israeli conflict. International support must be garnered to move Palestinian-Israeli negotiations forward towards the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state on Palestinian soil. Without it, there will be no comprehensive and just peace in the region.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, Jordan has, throughout its history, distinguished itself from most Arab countries in including fundamentalist parties in the political game, and I specifically mean the Muslim Brotherhood, while many Arab states have had confrontational relations. How do you account for Jordan’s unique situation?
(King Abdullah II) Jordan, by nature, is open to all political and thought currents. This is the foundation of the democratic process we hope to entrench in order to ensure everyone’s participation in the construction of our country’s future. The Islamist movement in our country is, without doubt, part of the political process and national fabric. It also has contributed to public life and effective political work. They are represented in parliament, and many of their leaders have been cabinet members. This conforms with the openness and pluralism that are Jordanian priorities.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, President Hosni Mubarak described the Muslim Brotherhood as “dangerous” to Egypt’s security. How do you view the Islamist movement in your country? Particularly in light of the confrontations between the Jordanian government and some currents of the Islamist movement?
(King Abdullah II) As I said earlier, the Islamist movement is part of our national and political fabric. Most of its leaders are highly responsible, and, like most of their compatriots, they are keen on Jordan’s security and stability. We are all in one boat, sailing in one direction, to build the best future possible for this country and insistent on construction, achievement and progress. There may be conflicting views on some issues, but in the end, there must be consensus on the future. We do not evaluate issues on the basis that this is Islamist, this is leftist or this is nationalist. The guiding principle for us is Jordan’s national interest. It supersedes all considerations. The role of the Islamist movement is welcomed and appreciated as long as it respects the Constitution, regulations and laws and as long as its agenda is nationalist, first and always. We will not be lenient with any party with external or non-Jordanian agendas. One important point is that all political groups that emerge from democracy should respect the rules of the democratic game, and cannot use them to achieve their objectives and then discard them. This would be completely unacceptable.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, Jordan is distinguished in that the palace was always the fort against extremism and radical Arab nationalism and other currents that swept the region. How has the palace managed to do that?
)King Abdullah II) We are an umbrella for everyone, and our doors are open to all affiliations and origins. We are moderate and centrist and believe in communication and in being connected to our people. We accept opposing opinions and discuss frankly and openly all issues and concerns of the nation and its challenges. There are red lines that everyone is aware of. These concern our national unity and security and the strength of our internal front. We will never allow any party or group, no matter its affiliations, to tamper with these. In the end, we have found a formula that has allowed us, thank God, to protect our country and enhance its strength and unity and its achievements.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, Jordan has experienced conflict with radical terrorism and terrorist operations, such as the hotel bombings. Are you satisfied with the way that the state has addressed terrorism, particularly that there are reports of several botched terrorist attempts that threatened your own security?
(King Abdullah II) Let me answer the last part of your question first. With God’s blessing, we are confident that we are moving in the right direction. I place the security of my country and my people before my own personal security. We fear no one and no one intimidates us. Our security apparatuses are astutely aware. They are well qualified and well trained, and work tirelessly to ensure the security of Jordan and its people. We are proud of them, and our people know very well that there are those who wish to undermine and weaken our country. The plans of these terrorist parties and groups have been exposed, and their conspiracies thwarted due to the strength of our internal front the loyalty of Jordanians to their country and their nation. We are proud of the brave Jordanian stance and the ability of Jordanians to confront terrorist attempts that have sought to frighten secure citizens.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, where do these terrorist groups find their support in Jordan? Where do they get their weapons, for example?
(King Abdullah II) I would like to clarify here that the perpetrators of most terrorist operations that have harmed Jordan came from outside. After Al Qaeda failed to enlist Jordanian members in its operations, it focused its strategy on using non-Jordanians. As for the weapons, they came from some neighboring countries, regrettably.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, do you monitor Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq, particularly that there are some Jordanians amongst them?
(King Abdullah II) Our security forces, who are responsible for preserving the security and stability of this country, are highly capable and effective. They do monitor terrorist groups and their cells in order to ensure that they do not execute their terrorist operations. Because we are aware of the extent of the threat that Jordan faces, our security strategy is focused on pre-emption, and our security services aborted several terrorist operations.
Saudi Arabia recently established a new mechanism for the transfer of rule within the ruling family. Since Jordan is a monarchy, do you see a need for Jordan to also find a formula to organize the succession in the ruling family.
We have, thank God, a Constitution that is considered one of the best and most modern, and this constitution has the consensus and respect of everyone in Jordan. Its articles are clear regarding the system of rule in Jordan. I don’t think with regards to this mechanism that we need to introduce changes or modifications.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, you raised the motto “Jordan First” and “We Are All Jordan”. What have these strategies achieved so far?
(King Abdullah II) The We Are All Jordan Forum constituted a political and national doctrine for the activation of popular inclusion in identifying national priorities at this stage. All political sectors, the public and civil society institutions were represented at this forum, which we see as a sustainable process through which we aim to achieve and implement our vision as a model country. This does not happen over night. The participants had drafted mechanisms and working programs of what was agreed upon at the forum into reality. I believe that We Are All Jordan will not be just a slogan. It is a framework that will organize our domestic affairs and institutionalize our program to achieve progress and prosperity in our country with the participation of all partners in the decision-making process. The goal and objective of every Jordanian is Jordan first. There should be no contradiction between a person belonging to his homeland and his Arab and Islamic nation.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your Majesty, you recently said that Jordan is seeking to develop a nuclear program for peaceful purposes, mainly energy. Have you taken any steps in that direction?
King Abdullah II) We depend on securing our energy needs from importing oil from the outside. This has placed a large financial burden on us, in light of the rising fuel prices. For several years, we have sought alternative energy sources, such as shale oil and solar energy. Among the alternatives discussed was nuclear energy to generate electricity and water desalination. Let me say that the use of nuclear energy has its own particularities and challenges, foremost of which is the increasing demand for energy and the rising price of energy and the increasing dependence on imported oil and diminishing water resources. Jordan is part of a regional and international system that seeks to develop peaceful nuclear programs to help respond to its increasing energy needs within the framework of international laws and regulations.