Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Tamara Avetikian
El Mercurio
19 October 2008

El Mercurio: Jordan is an effective partner in the peace process. We are aware that your father, the late King Hussein, was a great promoter of the peace process, and he backed the creation of a Palestinian state. What is your opinion about the current crisis in the peace process of the region?

King Abdullah: It is a tragedy, first and foremost, for the Palestinian people but also for the people of Israel. Regardless of what politicians say or do, what we know is that the people of the region, Arabs and Israelis, long to live in peace and security. They are tired of war. I have said it many times: the stalemate in the peace process is not in the interest of Palestinians, Israelis or the countries of the region or the international community. We will all be affected – we are all being affected – by the failure to end this conflict.

My father understood the very practical ways in which the absence of peace affects everyone on a daily basis. He said once, “Nothing is more useless in developing a nation's economy than a gun, and nothing blocks the road to social development more than the financial burden of war. War is the arch enemy of national progress and the modern scourge of civilised men.” Every time a dollar is spent on war or on occupation, it is one less dollar spent on a school, on infrastructure, on child health, on finding solutions to the region’s shared water problem.

El Mercurio: Who is to be blamed?

King Abdullah: A lot of time has been wasted talking about who is to blame and rehashing the circumstances that have impeded progress. Our energies need to be devoted to helping Palestinians and Israelis succeed in ending the conflict. The basic parameters of a peace agreement are not in dispute: an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.

To get there, the parties need the support of the countries of the region and the international community.

El Mercurio: It seems that the Palestinian leadership, with its divisions and struggles, is being disruptive to the process. Which would be, in your opinion, the best way to carry on the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority?

King Abdullah: There have been many disruptions to the process and both sides need to take responsibility for their role. Palestinian disunity is one problem; a lack of seriousness and vision in Israel is another. This has undermined President Abbas and put him in a place where maybe he cannot take things as far as he would like. Also, since Annapolis, the international community has been frustrated and distracted and therefore, not engaged as much as we would like to see. So, there are a lot of ducks to line up. But we need progress, sooner rather than later, because we are losing time. Every day there is a little less over which to negotiate. And I think that if negotiations leading to the creation of an independent Palestinian state are not put at the top of everyone’s agenda, we are all going to be very sorry, very soon.

El Mercurio:Iran helps the Palestinian radical groups, those who have no trouble committing some terrorist acts to achieve their objectives. What does Jordan do to avoid the threat of these groups, and the influence they have in the proposal or denials of the PNA in the peace process?

King Abdullah: Jordan condemns terrorism, regardless of who commits it. We have been at the forefront of confronting terrorism and extremism in our region and we work closely with the countries of international community to prevent such acts of violence in our region and beyond.

Within the peace process, we see our role as one of support for the Palestinian people in securing their rights, in ending the siege that has been imposed upon them, in demanding an end to the occupation and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. As their neighbours who have their interests at heart, we – along with other Arab states – have encouraged the Palestinians to firmly unite themselves and end their internal disputes.

We deal with the legitimate Palestinian leadership, which is the Palestinian National Authority, and support it in pursuing those rights and preparing for statehood. We’ve done this by using our good offices with world leaders and by helping to train Palestinian civil servants and police, for example.

El Mercurio: If the conflicts in the region are not controlled, would Jordan be in peril between one recognised nuclear state, as Israel and Iran that may become nuclear very soon?

King Abdullah: Jordan seeks conflict resolution, not conflict management. The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is the core conflict in the region and if we achieve a just and lasting peace between them, based on international resolutions, we will have gone a long way towards resolving the wider Arab-Israeli conflict and containing extremism in the region. Our other goal is also to have a region free of weapons of mass destruction, which is also partly tied to an end to conflict. That would increase security for everyone; countries that feel secure should not feel the need for weapons of mass destruction. In the meantime, at a minimum, we need an end to nuclear ambiguity in the region. This situation is destabilising in and of itself and threatens to provoke an arms race that will exacerbate insecurity, not end it. Therefore, Jordan has urged all the countries of the region to be transparent about their nuclear capabilities.

If conflict in our region is not ended soon, I think all of the countries of the region – and perhaps the international community – will be in danger, not just Jordan.

The US is not in a hurry

El Mercurio: Do you think is it possible to finish a treaty before the end of the year, as President Bush has proposed?

King Abdullah: I hope so but I do acknowledge the difficulties of that. Our concern is to make sure that progress is not delayed while the US enters an election season and a new administration settles in. What’s been achieved in recent months is important and really must be sustained so that it is not overtaken by other events or actors.

El Mercurio: Is Jordan confident about the role of the United States in the Middle East?

King Abdullah: Jordan believes that, as a superpower and member of the Middle East Quartet, the US is in a position to help the parties bridge the existing gaps and achieve an agreement. Historically, little progress has been made without an American role. We respect all that they have done to help the parties advance, and we need them to continue. The problem that we encounter from the United States is that it deals with the region in a piecemeal fashion, instead of comprehensively. They do not necessarily connect the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the region’s other conflicts and issues, when in fact the Palestinian conflict is the core of conflict in the region, and is linked directly or indirectly to everything else that is happening. So they are not always looking at the bigger picture and consequently, sometimes we feel they lack the sense of urgency that we do. I hope that the new administration will make Palestinian-Israeli peace an urgent priority, because as long as this conflict remains unresolved, the greater the danger to the entire the region, including to US interests in the region.

Iraq turning a corner

What happens in Iraq is of concern to King Abdullah who does not support a quick withdrawal of foreign troops but he would like to see an end to the US military presence as soon as possible. "I hope Iraq is finally turning a corner," he added.

A key issue for the King is to preserve Iraq's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, "because the fracturing of Iraq would have disastrous consequences."

Jordan has supported Iraq in rebuilding its military and security institutions and reopened its embassy in Baghdad, a move that was followed by other Arab states. "On the whole, although there is still a long way to go, I do think Iraq is leagues ahead of where it was even a year ago."

Opportunities in Chile

"The extent to which the Arab community is integrated into Chilean culture and into the other countries of Latin America is really a testament to tolerance and a robust commitment to diversity in your region. And we are proud of the contributions they make to Chilean society," said King Abdullah who will meet with the Arab community in Chile.

He pointed out that a large component of his visit will be dedicated to building economic ties between Jordan and Chile, as well as with Brazil and Argentina.

"In July, Jordan signed a cooperation agreement with MERCOSUR, and we hope that this will lead to a free trade agreement soon."

To ensure the best use of available opportunities, he will take part in a business forum along with a Jordanian business delegation. Participants will include members of the Arab-Chilean Business Council, as well as SOFOFA. He hopes that it would be a platform from which to begin expanding private sector relations between the two countries, because as the monarch notes, "although our bilateral trade volume is still modest, in recent years, it has increased three-fold, which indicates that there is great interest."

During the visit, King Abdullah and President Bachelet will witness the signing of four bilateral agreements covering tourism, cooperation between our respective chambers of commerce and on investment promotion.