Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Ilyas Omarov
Kazakhstankaya Pravda
08 August 2007

Pravda: Your Majesty is about to visit Kazakhstan for the second time in two years, and President Nursultan Nazarbayev visited Jordan early this year. How does Your Majesty perceive the state of Kazakhstan-Jordanian relations? What does Your Majesty expect from the forthcoming visit to our country?

King Abdullah: Our bilateral relations are outstanding, and I am pleased that Jordan's desire to deepen and expand this relationship has been reciprocated in Kazakhstan, especially by His Excellency President Nursultan Nazarbayev. There is a very strong commitment from both sides to develop our relationship at every level - official, economic and cultural. This has been reflected not only in the exchange between the president and me, but in the opening of embassies in both capitals this year and in the signing of several agreements during President Nazarbayev's visit to Jordan last November. Just before this visit, a large delegation of Jordanian and Kazakh officials and businessmen met. They also signed several agreements that will enrich official relations and strengthen trade and investment between our two countries. Several more agreements are under discussion.

Pravda: Experts and analysts who study the state of bilateral trade and economic cooperation tend to say that cooperation does not correspond to existing potential. What are the most promising spheres, in Your Majesty's opinion, of Kazakhstan-Jordanian cooperation?

King Abdullah: There is vast potential to grow our trade and economic cooperation, especially that our countries are experiencing extraordinary growth. Our bilateral trade and our cultural exchanges are today modest, but I believe that they also are ripe for growth, so I think we must also really focus on opening up the channels that make such exchanges possible, for example, opening a direct air route between the two countries. Jordan also looks forward to signing a free trade agreement with Kazakhstan. There is also potential for cooperation in sectors that are key to each country's development. Jordan is currently working on alternative energy development, including the development of a nuclear energy programme. Therefore, cooperation in uranium mining, where Kazakhstan has tremendous expertise and experience, is one area that is rich with potential. Similarly, Jordanian expertise in the telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and construction sectors could be an asset to Kazakhstan. In fact, I understand that several specialised Jordanian delegations will be travelling to Kazakhstan next year to investigate the potential for cooperation in these areas.

Pravda: Jordan does not possess oil deposits. The country's economy relies mainly on the services and tourism sector, in which Jordan excels. Jordanians are also duly proud of the healthcare system which is renowned for high efficiency, according to the world standards. How does Jordan manage to preserve its economic independence and social stability without major natural resources?

King Abdullah: Our strategy for economic growth and development has been both inward and outward looking. In Jordan, we have focused on the kinds of economic reform that make our economy efficient and open, while our strategy for growth targets the utilisation of assets we do have - for example, our central regional location and our highly qualified human resources. By focusing on education and training, as well as on the enhancement of efficiency, productivity has increased threefold in the last five years. The private sector is also taking on a much greater role in our economy through participation and ownership in key sectors. Over the past six years, we've also diversified our export base and, through a number of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, we have opened up a global market that includes the US, Europe and a number of countries in Asia and the Far East. As you've noted, Jordan is highly competitive in the services sector. We also leverage the sectors we are competitive in to attract productive investment and create sustainable employment opportunities for Jordanians. This strategy has paid numerous dividends – 6 per cent average annual growth over the past seven years, a record year for investment in Jordan in 2006, a substantial increase in the per capita standard of living and a reduction in our reliance on foreign assistance.

We are shifting the focus now towards two other priority areas. First, we are striving to ensure that prosperity is inclusive. We are implementing a development strategy that would ensure greater economic activity and job creation throughout our country, not just in the urban areas. This plan consists of the transformation of various areas into special economic zones and/or development areas. The Aqaba Special Economic Zone in our Red Sea port city has been the model for this plan. ASEZ has taken advantage of Aqaba's competitive attributes and adopted a decentralised system of governance to spur growth and investment and create jobs. Now it is this model is being adapted and applied elsewhere in Jordan. Each area will be developed according to the specific competitive attributes in terms of the business clusters it can attract and develop. Although each of these initiatives will be unique according to the area of the country, all share the same goals: attracting more investments, stimulating regional development, creating more employment opportunities and raising the standard of living for all Jordanians.

Second, we are building sustainable international economic partnerships, such as that which we enjoy today with Kazakhstan. These partnerships target trade links, as well as the identification of areas in which complementary expertise or experience can be harnessed to advance bilateral economic relations and development in both countries. This also has a more global dimension. For example, we are now working on the G-11 initiative. The G-11 is a partnership of 11 lower-middle income countries that have made the tough choices for reform and are now working to graduate to higher income levels. We are working to build a partnership with the G-8 in areas that would help us do that. We are focused on promotion of investment, which supports higher productivity and trade-based growth; trade development, including market access and technical assistance; debt-burden alleviation, to reduce pressures on financial and budgetary space and targeted grant assistance. This kind of support - as opposed to just direct assistance - will help generate sustainable growth by creating more stable economies, more purchasing power, more resources for development, and new opportunities for our countries and our trading and investment partners, create a sustainable cycle of prosperity and growth - for our countries and our respective regions.

Pravda: Your Majesty's meetings with the President Nursultan Nazarbayev have resulted in a number of agreements including those concerning the establishment of diplomatic missions at the embassy level, the creation of a Kazakhstan-Jordanian Business Council, heightened cooperation in the cultural and humanitarian spheres, broadening of the links between sister cities of Astana and Amman and establishment of direct air links between the two cities. What else could bring our countries, people and leaders closer together?

King Abdullah: One way is through greater trade, which is currently modest -- $10 million in 2006. Trade is always an important conduit for building relations between people and governments, and I hope that Jordan and Kazakhstan will soon sign a free trade agreement that would give even greater impetus to the growth in our relations at every level. Both Kazakhstan and Jordan are developing countries, and, as I mentioned earlier, I believe that each country possess expertise and experience from which the other can benefit and advance our respective development. Finally, our countries also face common security challenges, emanating from terrorism and extremism. Both have denigrated Islam, our shared religion. The respect that we have for Islam and its message of peace, tolerance and moderation is a starting point from which we can work together - whether through official channels or channels of cultural exchange - to counter voices of extremism.

Pravda: Throughout the years of our independence, Kazakhstan has launched a number of international initiatives aimed at the strengthening of peace and stability in the region. One of such initiatives the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). It unites the representatives of 18 countries of the Asian continent. Does Jordan plan to join this forum? What does Your Majesty think of the CICA potential?

King Abdullah: Peace is not just a Jordanian policy objective; it is for us a core value, a good in its own right. For this reason, Jordan appreciates Kazakhstan's contributions to peace and security in the Central Asia region through the CICA initiative. Jordan looks forward to becoming a full-fledged member in this important institution, perhaps as early as next year, and this is something that His Excellency President Nazarbayev and I will be discussing during my visit.

Pravda: Your Majesty has consistently advocated the continuation of international efforts to strengthen dialogue between civilisations, religions and cultures. In this context, our country is particularly grateful to Your Majesty for the support of the Congress of leaders of world and traditional religions in Kazakhstan and Jordan's readiness to actively participate in its work. What does Your Majesty think about the dialogue of civilisations - is it possible and is it necessary today?

King Abdullah: The dialogue of civilisations is part and parcel of human history. So it is not a question of whether or not it is possible: it is possible, and it is still ongoing today. In the 21st century we are able communicate with each other around the globe - through the internet, through radio, television and travel - with more ease than ever before. The idea has always been that this would naturally lead to even greater understanding among cultures and faiths. What we did not count on was that all of these 21st century advantages would also facilitate the communication of those who prefer to sow division and chaos and bloodshed. They do this by emphasising our differences, perpetuating stereotypes and de-humanising the other. This happens in the East and in the West. So the question of the dialogue of civilisations is today one of content. Do we care to maintain and elevate the dialogue of the civilised? Or are we going to allow voices of extremism and fanaticism to prevail? Those who hold moderation and tolerance as core values cannot answer this question passively. It is incumbent on us to act to make sure our voices are louder. Those who believe in the people's right to freedom and a life of dignity must actively promote the culture of life and confront those who promote a culture of violence and intolerance.

So we do commend President Nazarbayev's work in interfaith and intercultural initiatives. We also appreciate his support for Jordan's own initiatives, such as the Amman Message, which articulates the core values of Islam. The purpose of the Amman Message is two-fold: first to counter the negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims in the West and second to remind Muslims of the key principles of their faith. Interfaith and intercultural affairs can be one valuable channel of cooperation between our two countries.

Pravda: A significant period of Jordan's history is associated with the name of Your Majesty's father - King Hussein. What does Your Majesty consider to be his most important legacy?

King Abdullah: My father's legacy is his belief inpeace. That belief was motivated by a vision not only for the people of Jordan, but all of the region's people. His vision was one of a region at peace, where people would not only be free of conflict, but would also enjoy the prosperity and progress of which they are worthy. Today, in Jordan, we do enjoy security, stability and prosperity, but this is something we still desire for all of our neighbours. No country in the region can reach its full potential in the absence of peace, nor can our region make its rightful contribution to global prosperity. I believe that we have to build on the inheritance His Majesty the late King Hussein left us in Jordan by continuing the campaign for a just, comprehensive Middle East peace; there are some 200 million young people who not only expect, but deserve to live in the kind of region envisioned by my father - a region where their talent and creativity flourish and where they enjoy the standards of living experienced by their peers elsewhere in the world.

For that to happen, we need to resolve the core conflict in our region, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The only just solution, and the only solution that will deliver the security that both sides need, is a two-state solution: a Palestinian state living in freedom and independence alongside Israel. The Arab Peace Initiative envisions a framework for negotiations that would lead us to that outcome and, ultimately, to a comprehensive resolution of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict. An end to this conflict can lead us to a new chapter in our history, in which our region, rich in natural and human resources, makes its rightful contribution to global progress. It will also help mute the voices of extremism that emanate from our part of the world.

Unfortunately, events in our region have taken a dangerous turn in recent months and years. Events in Gaza have added a new dimension to our concerns about the situation in the Palestinian territories, and we are calling for a return to Palestinian legitimacy and for maintaining the unity between the West Bank and Gaza as one entity in order to preserve Palestinian interests. We are also calling on Israel to commit to a clear plan of action and a timeframe for negotiations, and Jordan, along with other Arab states, is working closely with the international community to re-start the peace process and move it towards a just conclusion. Further ambiguity and confusion in the Palestinian arena constitutes an open door for extremists and other entities that wish to advance their own agenda in our region. We've seen this in Lebanon and we've seen it in Iraq - two other crisis areas that now demand our attention. The increasing frequency and intensity of conflict in our region should concentrate minds on the urgency of jump-starting the Middle East peace process.

Pravda: Your Majesty's father - King Hussein - the noble descendant of the ancient Hashemite family - was a keen racer and a pilot. Your Majesty has also started a military career and served in special forces for a while. Is this the genes of the noble ancestors?

King Abdullah: I do share my father's sense of adventure. In fact, some of my best memories are of the times that my father and I raced in the Jordan Rally. All of my brothers and sisters, in fact, enjoy adventure and sport and have a love for the outdoors. We also share the ethics, principles and core values that His Majesty King Hussein instilled in us. My father always raised us to understand that as Hashemites, our duty is to serve Jordan and its people, and Arab and Islamic causes. And it has been my great honour to do that throughout my life in different capacities, including my role today.