March 6, 2008
Contact:
Anna Christopher, NPR

   

NPR NEWS EXCLUSIVE:

HIS MAJESTY KING ABDULLAH II OF JORDAN
DISCUSSES MIDDLE EAST PEACE, IRAQ TROOP WITHDRAWAL
ON NPR NEWS ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
TODAY, THURSDAY, MARCH 6

FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW


March 6, 2008; Washington, D.C. – In an exclusive interview with NPR News, His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan emphasizes the urgency for a peace agreement in the Middle East, saying: “What concerns me is if we fail in the process over the next year, at least if we don’t have enough groundswell to be able to convince people that the process is continuing into 2009, it’ll be another two or three years until whoever the new American president is, that will be interested of sort of touching our region with a 10-foot pole.” The interview with NPR host Robert Siegel is airing tonight on All Things Considered. This is the only media interview King Abdullah is giving during his U.S. trip this week.

On whether the Israelis and Palestinians have the will to achieve peace, King Abdullah says: “From all the reports that I’ve received and the discussions that I’ve had with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, I think the chemistry is there, the willingness to move the negotiations forward is there. And obviously I think one of my concerns are is that final status issues, as you well know, are so complicated and so sensitive. Israelis and Palestinian politicians, left to their own devices, will not be able to complete the final status issues, and this is when we need to be ready as part of the international community led by the United States that can push them over that hurdle.”

On whether a peace agreement is achievable in the next year, he says: “What is the alternative? I mean, I think this is the great worry that all of us have. The overwhelming population of both Israel and Palestine want a negotiated settlement. All Arab countries and all Muslim countries have signed up to a peace initiative to have normal relations with Israel if we can solve the two-state solution. So we’re talking about the future of Israel no longer to the borders of Jordan or Syria or Lebanon or Egypt; we’re talking about a future of Israel from Morocco and the Atlantic to Indonesia and the South Pacific. This is the opportunity, this is the chance, for all of us to be able to move on with our lives. If we don’t solve the core issue of the problem, then I fear that rocket attacks, the death of innocent peoples, the conflict is just going to continue. I don’t see any end in sight. We need to win, otherwise the Middle East is going to continue to slide into the abyss.

On the timetables for withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq proposed by U.S. presidential candidates, he says: “It’s difficult for me to make any judgment on American policy in Iraq, but I think the realities on the ground will stipulate that the withdrawal of troops will not be as easy and as quick as I think we’ve been hearing. There is issues of keeping the stability inside of Iraq, and I think that when you actually come around to planning troop reductions, it’s very, very complicated.”

All excerpts must be credited to NPR News All Things Considered. Television usage must include on-screen NPR News credit with NPR logo. The audio of the interview will be available at approximately 7:00PM (ET) at www.NPR.org A full transcript will be released at 5:15PM (ET).

All Things Considered, NPR's signature afternoon news magazine, reaches 11 million listeners weekly, and is hosted by Melissa Block, Michele Norris and Robert Siegel. To find local stations and broadcast times, visit www.NPR.org/stations


-NPR-


ROBERT SIEGEL: Your Majesty, welcome to the program.

KING ABDULLAH II: Thank you.

MR. SIEGEL: You've called for urgent progress this year toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace. That increasingly seems to mean, in realistic terms, an agreement in principle and subsequent implementation at best. Can such an agreement, in effect peace on paper, really change the dynamics of the region?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, I believe it has to. What concerns me is if we fail in the process over the next year, at least if we don't have enough groundswell to be able to convince people that the process is continuing into 2009, it'll be another two or three years until whoever the new American president is that will be interested of sort of touching our region with a 10-foot pole. What happens in the meantime? I keep saying that the core issue of the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but there are new state actors in the region and my fear is that the failure of the peace process will increase the aggression of the extremists in our region. And that dynamic makes the core issue bigger than Israel and Palestine. It'll, I think, bring us into a very dark future; all of us, Americans, Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs.

MR. SIEGEL: When you say new state actors, are you speaking of Iran, essentially?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, Iran today sits on the Mediterranean either through Hezbollah, or sits in the Mediterranean because of its control of Hamas. And in a way, those in the Iranian government that are pursuing this policy have hijacked the Palestinian corps. S o it's no longer the old way of doing business as we're used to. Today, things are much more complicated and the failure of the peace process will, I think, get them to maybe increase their ambitions in the region. And if it doesn't play out between the Israelis and Palestinians, there's Lebanon and there's also Iraq.

MR. SIEGEL: For listeners who don't follow Middle East diplomacy minutely, I wonder if - I'd like to hear your view. Has anything substantively changed about what's likely to be demanded of Palestinians and of Israelis to achieve peace over the past 20 years or is it all simply achieving the will to do what's been on the table for all of these years?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, you know, I believe the will is there. I mean, from all the reports that I've received and the discussions that I've had with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, I think the chemistry is there, the willingness to move the negotiations forward is there. And obviously I think one of my concerns are is that final status issues, as you well know, are so complicated and so sensitive. Israelis and Palestinian politicians, left to their own devices, will not be able to complete the final status issues, and this is when we need to be ready as part of the international community led by the United States that can push them over that hurdle.

MR. SIEGEL: New numbers, new reports out today suggest that in Gaza, social and economic conditions are now worse than they have been, ever since 1967, since the Six Day War.

KING ABDULLAH: Yes, that's true.

MR. SIEGEL: What do you do about Gaza? Hamas is in control of Gaza; one approach seems to be to ignore them or starve the territories so that Palestinians there will turn away from Hamas. What's your counsel?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, I think our problem is that we only talk about half the story, how to isolate Hamas; nobody wants to deal with Hamas. But we've done nothing, I believe, to strengthen the Palestinian national authority. And so when we're not being able to show the Palestinians a good story and a bad story, Israel can really empower Abu Massen and the PNA to really be able to reach out if it's - you know, as politicians, you know, you want to be able to show the people that you can get things done.

MR. SIEGEL: With Gaza blocked off, is that possible to do?

KING ABDULLAH: I think it is possible and I know that, again, if there's a short-term delay on Gaza you want to show an example of one type of government in Gaza, and one type of government in the West Bank, and people can easily make the choice of the differences. The problem is we're not doing enough to support Abu Masen and the PNA.

MR. SIEGEL: On Iraq, both Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination say start withdrawing U.S. troops in 2009. Senator McCain, we assume the Republican nominee, says we might maintain bases in Iraq for as long as we've been in Germany or South Korea. Do you think the region needs a continued U.S. combat presence in Iraq at its present level, and does it need a permanent U.S. military presence on the ground in Iraq?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, I mean, it's difficult for me to make any judgment on American policy in Iraq, but I think the realities on the ground will stipulate that the withdrawal of troops will not be as easy and as quick as I think we've been hearing. There is issues of keeping the stability inside of Iraq, and I think that when you actually come around to planning troop reductions it's very, very complicated. And so the magical figures that I hear as a layman that, you know, we're going to reduce dramatically over a very short period of time, I don't know if the realities on the ground will actually allow the Americans to be able to do that. But that's just a personal opinion.

MR. SIEGEL: You're not just talking about logistical difficulties here, you're saying - I mean, if there were a Democratic president come January, do you think you would be one saying, please rethink some of the timetable you've been talking about?

KING ABDULLAH: I think what you'd have to do is actually ask the Iraqis. Without putting any words in their mouths, I think that there's a lot of Iraqis that would be nervous of how quickly withdrawal takes place and what vacuum you create, and I think that's the problem. I mean, if you move too quickly you create a vacuum that may be filled by elements that are going to create more instability. Obviously, all of us in the region, and I presume many people in the United States, would like to see American military presence out. However, I'm just pointing out realities on the ground may not allow that flexibility.

MR. SIEGEL: What did the visit of Iranian President Ahmadinejad say to you ?

KING ABDULLAH: I'm looking at the bigger picture. When I come to the United States to say, this is really the last opportunity because the dynamics have changed. If the Israelis and Palestinians don't solve their problems this year, then we're going to see extremist groups in our area push the envelope.

I know that some of the extremists are being told that look, the president of the United States is not interested in the peace process, which is not true; that America is not committed for peace and stability, the Israelis don't want to have a two-state solution. So why throw all your cards on the table today? Wait a couple more years and if another American president is interested in our region, then that's the time to maybe play your cards. So let's continue the way that we do business because life is not going to get better, which indirectly will get better for us. I have a feeling that the visit to Iraq is a good signal that there are players on the ground that are going to stay there and are going to push the envelope.

MR. SIEGEL: I would like you, though, to reconcile conflicting impressions that American news listeners might have. On the one hand, it's an urgent year to achieve peace and to hear you tell it, it's not only possible, it's necessary. On the other hand, daily exchange of fire over Gaza, Palestinians get killed in air strikes, Israelis are menaced by rocket attacks out of Gaza into Ashkelon and Sderot. It seems like we are so far from peace in the region that it's not realistic to be talking about one year away. You say there's a real possibility.

KING ABDULLAH: What is the alternative? I mean, I think this is the opportunity, this is the chance, for all of us to be able to move on with our lives. If we don't solve the core issue of the problem, then I fear that the conflict is just going to continue. I don't see any end in sight. We need to win, otherwise the Middle East is going to continue to slide into the abyss.

MR. SIEGEL: Well, Your Majesty, King Abdullah, thank you very much for talking with us.

KING ABDULLAH: Thank you very much, sir.