Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Salameh Nemat
Al Hayat
12 May 1999
(Translated from Arabic)

Al Hayat: Were you really prepared to succeed your father, the late King Hussein or were you surprised when he chose you as crown prince just a few days before his death? How true are the speculations that you represent a transitional period of just a few years?

King Abdullah: The decision of His Majesty my father, may God have mercy on his soul, to choose me as his successor was made after a long review of the national process, which he started in 1992. From the time he first discovered that he had cancer, none of us knew what was in his mind regarding the decision to resolve the matter a short time before his death. But we all knew that the issue of succession always depended on choosing whoever was most suitable for the future of the Kingdom. His Majesty gave signals in the past few years that he was reviewing the issue of succession for several reasons, as he explained in the message in which he announced his decision. When he took this step, it was in line with the Constitution, which stipulates that the eldest son succeeds the King. It was clear that he was putting the interest and future of the people and the homeland above all other considerations. It is true that my father's death came as a surprise to all of us because it was so premature, but we in the family were always ready to shoulder any responsibility given to us under any circumstances and in any condition.

The speculations that we represent a transitional period are true in the sense that any rule in the world is by nature a transitional one. We must hand over the responsibility when the time comes. Our life is in God's hands. The speculation that there is a specific period of time, give or take a few years, is incorrect. All we can assert today is that I am the King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and my brother, His Highness Prince Hamzah Bin Al Hussein, is the Crown Prince. The Hashemite rule -- which is based on historic, constitutional, and popular legitimacy -- has not been and will never be a subject of experiments. It is not a commercial company that is subject to calculations of this sort.

Al Hayat: Do you intend to revive the family council and to receive guidance from it in your decisions? Or is this not the proper time because of the removal of your uncle Prince Hassan who was the crown prince? Does the Constitution remain the sole term of reference for the succession issue or is your constitutional legitimacy being challenged?

King Abdullah: The family council does exist and we are always guided by it in the decisions that concern the family. We might not officially announce the council's meetings, but it is always in open session as the family members hold constant consultations. The Constitution has always been and will always provide the sole terms of reference in all matters that concern the state. There is no disagreement on this. As for the challenges, we are ready to deal with them wherever they are. Challenges are in the nature of things and an inseparable part of any regime's course.

Al Hayat: It was reported that your late father left you a written will specifying what first steps to take when you take charge. Is this true?

King Abdullah: His Majesty was a great man who left me much more than just a written will. I regard all that I learned from him and all his guidance as wills that I insist on implementing in the best way that I can.

Al Hayat: What is your perspective on Crown Prince Hamzah's role in the country's affairs? Will official executive responsibilities be given to the other family members in the future?

King Abdullah: The Crown Prince is the Throne's reserve and the King's right-hand man. He is the one being prepared today to carry out responsibilities that will be given to him in future. My brothers, sisters and cousins, the princes and princesses, are our support in everything we do to serve our homeland. Every single member of the family has a role to play in serving the homeland. This is the Hashemite rule's first and ultimate objective.

Al Hayat: What criteria governed Your Majesty's choice of your first prime minister and the chief of the Royal Court? What were the conditions that dictated this choice? Can we call this starting period of your rule a transitional one?

King Abdullah: Our choice of leading figures in the state was dictated by the requirements of the time and the conditions that prevailed before and after we ascended to the throne. Our personal knowledge of the abilities and potentials of the prime minister and the chief of the Royal Court may have played a major role in their selection. This is the case with any ruler who seeks to serve the interest of the homeland and citizens. As for the transitional period, each stage can be regarded as transitional because there is no place for stagnation in this world. But we do not believe in change for the sake of change; we believe that change should serve the strategic objectives of this homeland that is dear to all our hearts.

Al Hayat: Are you satisfied with your Government's performance two months after its formation? What do you expect it to accomplish?

King Abdullah: We are optimistic about the government's ability to perform its duties as best as it can. It has our confidence and support. As to satisfaction, it is what we hope that this government will achieve for the citizens who are suffering greatly from the economic straits we have in the country and from the difficult conditions and social and human repercussions that they entail. We are seeking to alleviate this suffering so as to pave the way for better conditions in the future. The government is primarily responsible for implementing what is needed and expected of it within the sphere of economic reforms. These involve dealing with administrative efficiency, combating corruption, speeding up the privatisation programme, and confronting the challenge of increased unemployment. They also involve democratic reforms that will make the citizen feel that he is a partner and not a mere spectator in the process of construction and moving society to a better position.

Al Hayat: Do you feel that the fourth Kingdom is consolidating its feet, one hundred days after it began, in light of the steps you have taken at the family and government levels and of your Arab tour?

King Abdullah: The fourth Kingdom's stability stems from the third Kingdom's stability. When we took over our responsibilities, the Kingdom was not in a state of instability. The institutions built by His Late Majesty were, and always will be, much stronger than some people believe. Some people feared that some quarters might exploit the handover of authority to create confusion at the time, but these fears were quickly dispelled by the cohesiveness of the state's institutions and the Jordanians from all groups and all political persuasions. Every Jordanian can be proud of what has been achieved and this could be a motive for more construction on firm and solid bases. The backing and support given us by our Arab brothers, both those I had the chance to visit or those that I will visit soon, really reflected the Arabs' traits of nobility, chivalry and generosity. I will never forget their response as long as I live. The brothers were our support at times of tribulations and we will be their support in all circumstances and at all times.

Al Hayat: In your view, what are the most prominent political and economic challenges that are still facing you at the domestic level?

King Abdullah: The economic and democratic reform processes are the most prominent challenges in the coming stage. We expressed this in our letter of designation to the government and the latter has pledged to achieve these goals. We have no illusions that these challenges will be easy or that they can be dealt with quickly. But we must confront them firmly, wisely, and patiently.

Al Hayat: You have promised more democracy and reform of the state's structures. What is your programme for this? Will you be taking steps soon that will reassure some voices that are demanding more participation in the fundamental political and economic decisions?

King Abdullah: The Government is taking steps toward introducing amendments to the election and publications laws with the aim of bolstering the democratic process. At the economic level, the Government has the task of implementing all the measures that the reform process requires and to continue the programme of restructuring the national economy. As to the details of the programme, I suggest you get in touch with the government and ask for them. But I can assure everybody that we will not deviate from the course of reform and corrective action despite the bumpy road and the numerous impediments.

Al Hayat: Are you satisfied with your country's internal situation?

King Abdullah: Things will get better, God willing. We must give the government some time and see how much of the required reforms it can achieve. It was formed only two months ago and some months must pass before we can see the fruit of its work. But I feel that some sort of cronyism has began to appear on the surface and I find this annoying, especially as I regard the entire Jordanian people as the group I belong to. I hope that everyone will think of the public interest and the future.

Al Hayat: You spoke about the need to draw up a strategic framework for Jordanian-Gulf relations during your Gulf tour. Is there a Jordanian desire to join the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC)? What is the concept and limits of the relationship that you want to establish with the GCC states?

King Abdullah: We believe that the GCC countries represent a strategic and natural depth for Jordan with all the security, political, economic, and social dimensions that this implies. Thus we believe that the security of the brothers in the Gulf is Jordan's security and vice versa. When we talk about security, we look at its various political, economic, social, and human aspects and not only at the tangible military one. The past two decades proved that there is a need for constant institutional coordination between us at all levels so as to serve the common interests and face the regional challenges imposing themselves on the region. In this context, we are not as much concerned with appellations or possible formulae as we are with the substance of this relationship and its executive strategic objectives.

Al Hayat: Except on rare occasions, tension has always characterised Syrian-Jordanian relations. Estrangement and disputes were the historical features of this relationship. In light of your recent visit to Damascus, do you believe that the new era will differ from this whole history? What about your relations with Turkey, and Syria's relations with Iran? What about the conflicting Syrian and Jordanian positions on the peace process and normalisation?

King Abdullah: Yes, I believe that we have a new era in relations because we have decided to look forward and not backward. It is true that we agree on some matters and differ on others, and this is quite normal. However, we believe that it is not useful to turn differences into disputes. We should enhance the points of agreements and reduce the points of differences as much as possible for the sake of serving our two peoples and common interests. During my meetings with the brothers in Syria, foremost among them President Hafeth Assad, I felt that we have a common view of the means of restructuring bilateral relations by adopting a new way to look at the situation in the region and the requirements of the coming stage. The situation cannot tolerate a policy of isolationism in view of the new challenges, which entail that we stand in solidarity as much as possible. It is probably clearer today that the estrangement of the past helped deepen differences that could have been reduced through a constructive dialogue for reaching a common ground. We can probably say today that many opportunities were lost in the past because of mutual suspicions and lack of contact. But we do not want to look backward because the future is before us. Regarding our relations with Turkey and Syria's relations with Iran, they ought not be at the expense of our common interests. They could even help serve our common views if we succeed in using them in the most ideal way.

Al Hayat: Did you sense a big change in the position of the Syrian leadership?

King Abdullah: I felt that there was a big change. I believe that this change is for the good of Syria in the coming stage. There was a real response to the bilateral and regional issues we raised. We appreciate the Syrian stand on these issues. As to the peace process, we believe that Syria wants to see the objectives of peace realised and it certainly desires to resume the negotiations as long as the internationally legitimate resolutions remain the terms of reference. There is a new concept of modernisation that is looking toward the future and having an effect on the general direction of Syria's policies. We back this move.

Al Hayat: How do you see Bashar Assad, the Syrian President's son?

King Abdullah: I admire Dr. Bashar. He represents Syria's new generation and has much to give to his country. I believe that there is a real and positive change in Syria's political orientation. Everyone is very eager to move forward.

Al Hayat: Do you expect the peace process on the Syrian track to be set in motion before the Palestinian one in the coming stage?

King Abdullah: We believe that it is necessary to make progress on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks but this should not be at the expense of the Palestinian one. We are informed of the Syrian stand; the Lebanese president will visit Amman on May 29 [1999] and we will discuss the issue with him.

Al Hayat: How are Jordan's relations with Turkey and Iran today?

King Abdullah: Turkey and Iran are two important countries in the region and we deal with them as such. We have excellent relations with Turkey and are seeking to build similar ones with Iran. We agree with Iran on some matters and differ on others. We are always ready to understand its interests in as much as it understands ours too. We see no reason for not improving relations in future.

Al Hayat: President Arafat has once again raised the notion of a confederation with Jordan. Is there a common concept of the future of relations between the two peoples? What in your view is the ideal situation for this relationship in future?

King Abdullah: We do not have a preconceived concept of a specific formula or framework for future relations. But we believe that the unique and historic relations between the two peoples will definitely be translated into reality in one way or another in the future. We are today looking toward reviving the peace process and expect its logical outcome to be the Palestinian people's retrieval of their national rights in full and establishment of their independent state on their national soil with East Jerusalem as its capital. What my brother the Palestinian President is proposing is confirmed evidence that the Palestinian leadership is seeking to lay down the framework for the special, unique, and existing relationship between the two peoples. We appreciate and reciprocate this feeling. The notion of a confederation is one among several proposed ideas. Our main concern now is to see the peace process reach its logical conclusion on the ground, and we can then look at the means of laying down the framework for this special, unique, and existing relationship that will be in line with the two peoples' will.

Al Hayat: What is your position on the postponement of the declaration of the Palestinian state?

King Abdullah: We support the Palestinian leadership's decision to postpone the declaration of the state and believe that this serves the national Palestinian rights.

Al Hayat: How do you view Jordan's role in the final-status negotiations?

King Abdullah: Our role is one of support and backing for the Palestinian brothers through intensive coordination between the two leaderships on all issues on the agenda of the final-status negotiations. I believe that we have an understanding in principle on these issues.

Al Hayat: Signals coming from some Israeli circles showed their unease with your choice as your father's successor. How did you read those signals? How do you assess the Israeli Government's decision to reduce Jordan's share of water this year by 60 per cent?

King Abdullah: We do not know if there was unease among some Israeli circles. But if there was, then we are not concerned with it. The Jordanians' satisfaction and action to protect their interests are our major concern. Therefore, we reject the idea of reducing our share of water and regard this step a violation of the peace treaty between us. On our part, we are complying with this treaty and expect Israel to do the same. Jordan has invested too much in the peace with Israel and we will not back down on this investment which has so far achieved much for the two peoples and the region. But we cannot endeavour to act unilaterally and we hope to see more positive steps from the Israeli side in the future.

Al Hayat: You received Yitzhak Mordechai, former Israeli defence minister and the Centre Party [prime ministerial] candidate. You also received Labour Party Leader Ehud Barak, the main competitor of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom you refused to receive. How do you explain this Jordanian stand?

King Abdullah: We do not believe that it is proper to comment on this issue at this specific stage, so as not to be regarded as trying to influence the result of the Israeli election. The visits were not official in the first place.

Al Hayat: Is there a comprehensive review of Jordan's relations with Israel, which some Arab countries believe might be necessary for your country to retrieve its active Arab place within the framework of Arab consensus?

King Abdullah: We cannot say that there is a comprehensive review. There are situations, conditions, and calculations that have imposed themselves and we have dealt with them on that basis. We are committed to backing the peace process and we will not back down on it. At this particular time, we hope that the Israeli election will bring forward leaders who will give impetus to the peace process on all tracks. We do not believe that Jordan had in the past left its active Arab place.

Al Hayat: Relations between Jordan and Iraq during the past two decades were in a state of ebb and flow. Where do these relations stand today? How do you envisage Iraq's future and the fate of the Iraqi regime?

King Abdullah: We have and are working to have balanced relations with all countries based on mutual respect and the principle of non-interference in the other side's internal affairs. But at the same time, we want to see an end to the Iraqi people's sufferings for humanitarian and pan-Arab reasons. We are working to protect our strategic interests wherever they are as we deal with various countries in the region, including Iraq. I safely can say that the situation in Iraq in all its human and political aspects is a major concern for all countries in the region, including Jordan. We have never failed to support the Iraqi people and we stand with them.

Al Hayat: There is talk about a political and military role for Jordan in the possible change of Iraq's regime. How true is this talk? Is Jordan's coordination limited to Washington or is there coordination with the Gulf countries and with Syria in particular, about Iraq's future?

King Abdullah: There is no truth to the reports about a political or military role for Jordan in bringing about a change in Iraq. But we are looking for a change that will save the Iraqi people from their present tribulation. The current situation cannot continue eight years after the war had ended. On our part, we are continuing consultations with our Arab brothers and concerned friendly countries so as to help save the Iraqi people from the tragedy they are living in on one hand, and to bolster security and stability for the countries of the region on the other.

Al Hayat: You are going to Washington on your first visit to meet President Clinton. What are the priorities on your agenda?

King Abdullah: Economic cooperation is the top priority at the bilateral level and the future of the peace process and the situation in Iraq are the top priorities at the regional-issues level. We believe that the United States, as a friendly state, has played and is still capable of playing a positive role in strengthening stability in the region and in cooperating and coordinating with countries of the region to help achieve this objective. We appreciate Washington's support to Jordan in the past and look forward to more support that strengthens Jordan's role in the region.

Al Hayat: You have so far held talks in Germany and here in London during your current tour. What were the most important points discussed in these talks?

King Abdullah: The focus was on the situation in Kosovo and then on the Middle East peace process. It is obvious that the Europeans are at present preoccupied with Kosovo. On the bilateral level, we spoke about Jordan's need to have its foreign debt burden reduced. We asked the concerned countries in the G-8 to support the reduction of our foreign debts by a per centage that helps revive our national economy. We hope to have support for this at the G-8 summit next month. I can say that we have a great deal of German, British, and US support on this issue.

Al Hayat: How do you assess the situation in Kosovo?

King Abdullah: Our stand has been clear from the outset. We condemned the displacement of Albanians and supported the NATO countries. On our part, we gave humanitarian aid and took part with the United Arab Emirates in opening a hospital to treat the displaced refugees. A number of Jordanian doctors have arrived today to work in that hospital.

Al Hayat: How do you expect the crisis to end?

King Abdullah: We believe that NATO's success or failure will have far-reaching consequences for the world. Failure will be a victory for the extremist forces and regimes that rebel against international legitimacy and violate human rights. Success will be a lesson to all those who believe that they can commit crimes of this kind and escape the punishment.

Al Hayat: As a military man, do you believe that it is possible to achieve a military victory with air strikes only?

King Abdullah: Certainly not. I believe that resolving the situation on the ground militarily might take a full year.