Asharq al Awsat met Jordanian Prime Minister Adnan Badran in Amman after returning from a historic visit to Iraq where he met senior officials to bolster bilateral relations between the two neighbors.
Q: How do you assess your visit to Baghdad given the continuing lack of security around the country?
A: The visit was important for both countries because we are neighbors, share a long border and are bound together by history, demography and geography.
Relations between the two countries have been strong for a long time; Jordan is important for Iraq due to our geographical location, especially regarding the movement of goods, as the port of Aqaba serves the country’s economy.
Politically, Iraq is facing a constant security threat which has removed from the center of Arab affairs. I do not mean Baghdad is marginalized, only isolated as it tries to quell the violence and improve living conditions for its citizens. In addition, the country faces the challenge of keeping its territory united and developing an Iraq home to different political, ethnic and religious groups.
Achieving political pluralism requires tremendous effort from all Iraqis in order to build a free and democratic society. We are already seeing the fruits of this increased openness in the Iraqi media.
The Iraqi government welcomed me to Baghdad as the first Arab leader to visit since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Jordan was determined to go ahead with the invitation without being concerned about the security dangers in order to show the people of Iraq they are part if the Arab and Islamic nations and have an important role to play to ensure the safety and stability of neighboring countries.
Isolating Iraq and refusing to visit and meet its leaders will only further marginalize the country and its people from their Arab brethren which is a very dangerous course to follow.
Q: Do you fear for Iraq’s Arab identity?
A: No. We welcome comments attributed to Iraqi officials affirming that Iraq is an integral part of the Arab and Islamic nations because Iraq is undeniably an Arab country and a founding member of the Arab League.
The constitutional debate is an internal Iraqi affair. We hope officials we reach a consensus with all religious, ethnic and political communities having a say, and agree on a constitution that meets the people’s interests and aspirations.
Q: Will Iraq be partitioned along sectarian and ethnic lines?
A: Going to Iraq, one imagines the south were the Shi”a community is the majority to be influenced by Iran , the Sunni triangle by Jordan , and the north by Turkey , Syria , and Iran . The reality, however, is very different.
The Shi”a in the south live and belong to Iraq as are the Sunnis in the centre and the Kurds in the north; all these communities believe in the unity of the Iraqi nation.
Q: What would you say to the Iraqi people as they get ready for general elections?
A: I urge all individuals and groups to take part in the political process and not boycott he elections. The Iraqi constitution is balanced and the fears of the rise of an Islamic Republic are unfounded.
Q: How would you describe the security situation on the Jordanian- Iraqi border?
A: The border on the Jordanian side is very well controlled and infiltrators and smugglers are apprehended on a daily basis. The border couldn’t be any more secure!
My government has earmarked 10 million sq m to build a duty free industrial zone along the common border and crossings are currently being equipped with the latest technology to facilitate the movement of goods and people. We will also be using specialized equipment to detect forged passports.
A joint security committee comprising the Jordanian interior minister and his Iraqi counterpart will be formed to study all joint security issues.
Q: Did you request Iraq hand over the terrorists responsible for the bombing in the Jordanian port of Aqaba ?
A: I informed Iraqi officials of the names and identities of these men and they currently wanted for questioning. Once arrested, Iraq vowed to hand them over to us.
Q: What about Jordanian-born Abu Musab al Zarqawi? Did both sides agree to coordinate efforts to catch him?
A: Neither we nor the Iraqi government have any information on al Zarqawi other than him being a wanted terrorist.
Q: Did the Iraqi government request remnants of the Baath regime living in Jordan be handed over?
A: No. Baghdad is already aware the daughters of toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, Raghad and Rana, live in Jordan and are not involved in politics.
Q: Where proposals to supply Jordan with Iraqi oil at preferential prices discussed?
A: Yes. A committee was formed under the supervision of the Iraqi oil minister and the Jordanian energy minister to discuss the matter further, especially regarding the resumption of Iraqi oil exports through a pipeline or a railway to a refinery and then Aqaba to be exported abroad.
This will ensure Jordan is supplied with oil at reduced prices and Iraq is able to export its oil through the port in Aqaba. I personally prefer shipping the oil by train as the railway can be also used to carry freight and passengers.
Q: Does the Iraqi Prime Minister, plan on visiting Amman?
A: I extended an official invitation during last visit and expect the Prime Minister to contact me after he returns from the UN General Assembly meeting in New York City to set the date for the meetings of the joint Iraqi- Jordanian committee.
Q: Was your visit in response to an invitation by Iraq ’s President, Jalal Talbani who recently criticized the Arab position on visits to Baghdad ?
A: No, my visit was planned a week ago and I only informed my cabinet of my trip a day before leaving Amman for security reasons.
Q: Do you have a message to Arab governments on developments in Iraq ?
A: I call on Arab governments to engage with Iraq . The time has come for Arab countries to welcome back Iraq to the fold, despite past differences; dialogue solves any outstanding problems.
Q: Was the case of Ahmad Chalabi raised in the meetings? (Editor’s note: The Iraqi politician was convicted and sentenced in absentia in 1979 for bank fraud by a Jordanian military court. He fled the country and faces seventeen years in prison should he ever enter Jordan .)
Q: Did you set a date for the appointment of a Jordanian ambassador to Iraq ?
A: An ambassador has been selected. One security guarantees have been provided, he will be appointed.