Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Wolf Blitzer
The Situation Room
14 January 2016

مقابلة جلالة الملك مع محطة سي أن أن الإخبارية الأمريكية

CNN: As we speak, 10 American sailors have been freed from Iranian custody – it was a brief incident – does Jordan trust Iran?

King Abdullah: We have relations with Iran, but we obviously see their involvement beyond their borders – in Yemen, in Africa, obviously they are involved in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan. So we have to contend with their presence beyond their borders.

CNN: As you know in the coming days, the US and other international partners are going to lift sanctions, and US$100 billion, maybe, will flow into Iran very, very quickly. They can do with it whatever they want, is that a source of concern to Jordan?

King Abdullah: It is a concern to a lot of us in the region, and I think further afield, and so this is why I said there is a linkage between the nuclear deal and how Iran performs on the other portfolios. I think they are going to be held up to how they perform also on those other sectors. We will have to see how that happens and where we hold them accountable on what other potential mischiefs may be found.

CNN: In President Obama’s State of the Union Address, he said that the fight against ISIS should not be labelled another World War Three because that, he says, plays into the hands of ISIS propaganda. You’ve called this war against ISIS almost like a World War Three. Do you see this war against ISIS now as World War Three?

King Abdullah: Well I have said the war against the khawarej, the outlaws of Islam, is a third world war by other means, which is probably slightly different in how I explained it. It is not just ISIS. All these groups – whether they’re from the Philippines or in Indonesia all the way to Mali – these are all same − whether ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Al Nusra – wherever you find them around the world. And, again, as I said from Asia all the way to the African continent, there is either a full-out war or counter-insurgency warfare.

This is a global struggle that brings, as I have said many times, Muslims, Christians, Jews, other religions, fighting alongside us as we fight our civil war inside of Islam.

CNN: The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi says ISIS can be defeated this year. In the President’s State of the Union Address, he says this is a war that is going to go on − it is going to be a generational war. What’s your assessment?

King Abdullah: Well, again, let’s make the differentiation when we say ISIS – Syria or Iraq – or if we are saying this global war against the khawarej, the outlaws of Islam. So ISIS, Syria and Iraq can be defeated fairly quickly, but the global war, what I call the third world war by other means, is one that is a generational one.

Hopefully the military-security aspect is the short term, or the military part is the short term; the mid-term is going to be the intelligence and security aspect; and the long term is the ideological one and the educational one.

CNN: And that’s a generational war?

King Abdullah: That is the generational one, not only inside of Islam, as we re-gain, we as Muslims re-gain, the supremacy against the crazies, the outlaws of our religion, but also reaching out to other religions that Islam is not what they have seen being perpetuated by 0.1 per cent of our religion.

CNN: The US says most of the airstrikes against ISIS, the US airstrikes, the Coalition, other countries, whether the Europeans, Jordan, the UAE, Saudis, maybe 6 per cent of the airstrikes. And the suggestion is, you, the Coalition, is not doing enough.

King Abdullah: I know the figures of the amount of airstrikes that we did, not counting the amount of air patrols and reconnaissance flights that we did, we have been hitting tremendous amounts of ground targets. We have always wanted to hit more. And I think that having a good relationship with the Secretary of Defence and there is a couple of new generals in the Pentagon now that I think want to fix bayonets and go over the parapet, I think that you will see an increase in tempo. There has been some good operations.

I can say that from the Jordanian perspective we want to see a bit more and that is one of the reason why we visited D.C., and it comes down to this issue of synchronisation: how do we bring it all together? This is something that has been discussed over the past several months and this is what we are trying to do now.  So what is Jordan’s maximum effort and what can we do to really close the circle, what do the Iraqis do, what do the Turks do, what do the Kurds do in coordination with the rest of the Coalition. Vienna is very important because how do we deal with the Russians.  My view, if we could get the Russians to be part of the synchronisation, even better; but that is a problem between Moscow and Washington.

CNN: Do you believe that Russia and Iran in dealing with the future of Syria might abandon Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian leader, and allow him to sort of abdicate, move away?

King Abdullah: My discussions with President Putin is we need to move the political process forward as quickly as possible. Obviously, there are those countries that say that Bashar has to move today, and the Russians are saying not before 18 months. And I will talk about this from our point of view because obviously we have the Free Syrian Army in the south and we are working with the Russians of creating a ceasefire in the south.

And I specifically have discussed with Putin, you can’t expect young men and women to put their arms down and abide by a ceasefire if there is no movement on the political process in Vienna. They are not going to sit there and do this for two or three months and not expect something to happen. So, the Russians are fully aware that sooner rather than later we have to have a mechanism that allows the process to move forward and I think we all understand that that does mean the departure of Bashar.

CNN: Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz has called allowing Syrian refugees into the United States as “lunacy”. Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner now, says taking in Syrian refugees could be a “Trojan Horse” in the United States. When you hear these comments, what is your reaction?

King Abdullah: There are Trojan Horses in there. We definitely know that; and so you have to be careful about the screening. But at the same time, we can’t let probably the 80 per cent of the other refugees or the 90 per cent of the other refugees suffer at the same time. So it is always been the balance of your moral code of being able to look after people that are in plight to the balance of security, and this is something that we always have to deal with.

CNN: How many Syrian refugees has Jordan accepted?

King Abdullah: Well, we have about 1.2-1.3 million refugees at the moment, but obviously we have accepted more than that because some have come in and some have gone back into Syria and some have gone to other countries.

CNN: Because as you know here in the United States there is a big debate about allowing Syrian refugees into the United States. About 1,500 so far have been accepted. The administration says maybe 10,000 will be able to come in. Do you believe the U.S. is doing enough to help Syrian refugees?

King Abdullah: Well, we have been challenged recently because there is 12,000 or 14,000 refugees across our border on the eastern side that have not been allowed to come in except for very strict screening. Part of the problem is that they have come from the North of Syria, from Al Raqqa, Hasaka and Deir Ezzor, which is the heartland of where ISIS is. We know there are ISIS members inside those camps. And we have tremendous pressure from NGOs of other countries that keep telling us that we have to let them in. We vet about 50-100 every day.

We do have our government, our military and our hospitals as well as NGOs on the other side looking after them, but the pressure we get from the international community saying ‘look, you have already got 1.2’. So from a humanitarian point of view and a moral point of view, you really can’t question our determination, but this particular group has a major red flag when it comes to our security. And so we have been very, very careful on vetting. So I tend to understand when other countries are concerned, but at the same time we can’t ignore the plight of refugees and we have to let people in.

CNN: What is your reaction to Donald Trump saying that there should be a temporary ban on Muslims coming into the United States until the U.S. can figure out what is going on?

King Abdullah: I think that is the same challenge that we’re being pushed to at the moment with the group that we’re talking about. We are saying to those, you know, we have had this comment given to us by the United States that you need to allow these refugees into the country, so we are going back to the United States where these comments have been made saying look we understand, we are trying to bring these people in, but we are trying to make sure that the mechanisms that we put in place make sure it is never going to be fool proof but that we are going to try and make it as sterile as possible.

But like I said, we are accepting 50-100 every day from an area that we know is major danger. Obviously, it is those that are ill, the elderly, women and children; and some people can be callous and say, but let all the women in, but as you saw in California and we have seen in Paris recently, women unfortunately have been part of terrorist organisations and terrorist strikes, but we can’t ignore and just keep refugees isolated.  So, you have just got to be smart and you have got to think with a heart.

CNN: Because Donald Trump isn’t just talking about refugees, he is talking about all Muslims on a temporary basis not being allowed to come into the United States. You are a major Muslim leader of a Muslim country, you hear these comments, your reaction?

King Abdullah: You are into an elections cycle so I do not think it is fair for you to ask a foreign leader to express his opinion on candidates in your country running for election.

CNN: The Saudis, as you know, executed a Shia cleric, others accused of terrorism, in response the Saudi embassy in Tehran was burnt, ransacked, the Saudis severed diplomatic relations. Other Sunni-Arab countries, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain, Qatar, they down-graded or severed relations, Jordan didn’t, why?

King Abdullah: Well, we are in coordination with the Saudis, we took a firm position against what the Iranians did; we fully support our Saudi friends, and we took the position that we took. We brought in the Iranian ambassador and expressed our displeasure. This was done in coordination with our Saudi allies.

We have an amazingly strong relationship with our Saudi brethren. My relationship with His Majesty, the King, the Crown Prince, and the Deputy Crown Prince, is extremely strong and this was the position that we had worked out between ourselves.

And, again, do not forget that we are part of the Vienna talks when it comes to Syria, and so it was felt that having us in a bit more of a flexible position at the talks is probably more prudent at this stage. And, obviously, there is now heightened tension between the Saudis and the Iranians that is going to play out in the Vienna talks. But, more importantly, what I think the Saudis, looking at the higher moral ground, do not want this to escalate into a regional Shia-Sunni conflict. So I think everybody is trying to make sure that we can calm this down and focus on what needs to be done, especially at the Vienna talks table.

CNN: I know you and Jordan have very good relations with Saudi Arabia, but did you have a problem with their execution, the beheading, of these terrorists?

King Abdullah: They told us about this beforehand. This is an internal issue and we respect, obviously, their decisions and their internal decision cycle. And, as we said, we fully supported what they had to do.

CNN: Your Majesty, you’ve been very generous with your time. Thank you so much. Welcome to Washington.

King Abdullah: Thank you very much.