Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Nari Shin
Dong-A Ilbo
26 March 2012

Dong-A Ilbo: The Second Nuclear Security Summit is about to start in South Korea. What’s at the top of the summit’s agenda and what are your expectations for the upcoming meeting?

King Abdullah: I see three main priorities for this summit: Firstly, to propose specific recommendations on cooperative measures to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism; secondly, to identify and put in place measures to enhance secure and safe management of nuclear facilities; thirdly, to boost our joint and concerted efforts to prevent illegal trafficking of nuclear and radiological materials.

These three main points alone make for a challenging and busy agenda, and I am grateful to President Lee Myung-bak and the government of the Republic of Korea for hosting and organising this highest level forum on the common objective of preventing nuclear terrorism. The fact that around 60 heads of state and international organisations are gathering in Seoul proves that nuclear security is a vital national interest for all of us. It is a global imperative.

Dong-A Ilbo: What is Jordan’s goal at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit?

King Abdullah: We come to the Seoul Summit with a concrete initiative to strengthen our capacity to counter nuclear smuggling, an initiative that we have discussed and agreed with several other countries and that I hope will be joined by all other members of the Nuclear Security Summit by our next meeting, in 2014.

I am announcing at the summit that Jordan has begun to create a Counter-Nuclear Smuggling Team (CNS), made up of officials and experts drawn from all relevant national security institutions, including customs and our Interpol liaison officer.  We have done so because we recognise the magnitude of the threat that nuclear material “on the loose” poses to the national security of every country, whether or not a country enjoys the benefits of nuclear energy.  All of us must therefore do everything we can to prevent the smuggling of highly enriched uranium and plutonium into, across, or out of our respective countries.  Our planet simply cannot risk otherwise.

In establishing this counter nuclear smuggling team, and making it fully operational, Jordan will work with other countries that have experience in this field. We are inviting our fellow Nuclear Security Summit members to join us and get involved in actions to build national capacities to counter nuclear smuggling, improving laws, regulations and policies to combat illicit trafficking, improving the sharing of information between us and with Interpol as a mechanism to timely identify smuggling networks. The initiative also aims to encourage the pledging of resources and lessons learned to make them available for counter nuclear smuggling capacity building projects by 2014.

We invite all members of the Nuclear Security Summit to join us, recognising that all of this is being accomplished on a voluntary basis, in keeping with the terms of the Seoul Communiqué.

Dong-A Ilbo: Two years have passed since participants in the First Nuclear Security Summit agreed to support President Obama’s goal to secure all vulnerable nuclear material within four years to enhance nuclear security. Do you think the so-called “four-year-lock-down initiative” can be implemented in the coming two years?

King Abdullah: I think that we must try, we must give it our best shot. We owe it to our people. I very much appreciate President Obama’s continued leadership over this subject and the support extended by the government of the United States to the nuclear summit process. The countries and organisations represented at this summit have a powerful role as a force for positive action around the globe. It is my hope that we, the international community, can work together and achieve the global nuclear security that our people are entitled to.

Dong-A Ilbo: The Fukushima nuclear accident after the First Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC brought new challenges posed by radiological terrorism. There is a need to discuss the threat of radiological terrorism along with that of nuclear terrorism at the summit. What do you think of that?

King Abdullah: One of the objectives of this summit is to propose specific recommendations to prevent illegal trafficking of radiological materials, in addition to nuclear materials. Unfortunately, the radioactive materials most likely to be used for “dirty bombs” are often poorly protected and relatively readily available from research, military or simply medical or industrial sources. And this makes radiological terrorism a very immediate threat, which calls for intensified international efforts and collaboration.

Dong-A Ilbo: What’s the first and most important step that should be taken to rid the world of nuclear weapons, in your view?

King Abdullah: I think we should first ensure non-proliferation. Two things are of paramount importance to start with: compliance and transparency. Compliance with international agreements and regimes. Transparency, when it comes to opening up facilities and sites to international inspectors as well as when it comes to providing information and discussing nuclear energy and related plans and projects. But at the end of the day, it is all about the realisation that nuclear weapons don’t make anyone any safer. Only real peace, based on justice and international legitimacy, can guarantee real security.

Dong-A Ilbo: What is your advice to solve a problem like North Korea’s? North Korea is not living up to the NPT and is developing a uranium enrichment programme. How can we deal with North Korea’s nuclear issue?

King Abdullah: I don’t pretend to have the solution to a problem with which your country, and the international community, has been struggling for so long. But I can reiterate what you – the people and decision-makers of the Republic of Korea – already know: That dialogue is always the best way, and that the best solution is always a peaceful one.

Dong-A Ilbo: What is your country’s contribution to international efforts for nuclear security?

King Abdullah: The establishment of a Counter Nuclear Smuggling Team and our invitation to all other members of the Nuclear Security Summit to join us in concrete actions to better enable us to prevent the smuggling of nuclear material are only the latest in a long list of steps that Jordan has taken to enhance nuclear security.

Jordan has always spared no effort, since the time of my father, His Majesty the late King Hussein, to avoid nuclear proliferation and a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which would have unimaginable consequences well beyond our region. Not only have we signed every major international treaty and convention to prevent nuclear proliferation and secure nuclear materials, but we have also long been strong advocates for the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. It is a major challenge, but one that we must meet. All Arab countries support the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East and have all signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But Israel remains outside this important regime. We believe Israel should sign the NPT now, and join the international community in accepting the Treaty's legally binding provisions, just as other states are required to do.

Dong-A Ilbo: Recently, Jordan and the Korea Global Petroleum Corporation signed an MoU to explore oil and gas reserves in the Dead Sea and Wadi Araba regions. We saw a recent photograph of you at the building dedication ceremony for a power generation facility in Qatraneh. What is the aim of the relationship between Jordan and Korea?

King Abdullah: I was truly delighted to inaugurate the new power plant in Qatraneh, a very large project carried out by the Korea Electric Power Corporation in partnership with a Saudi company.

As for our recently signed Memorandum of Understanding with the Korea Global Petroleum Corporation to explore for oil and gas in the Dead Sea and Wadi Araba area, we are delighted to work with a partner with such extensive experience.
Korea and Jordan also have an important agreement for a nuclear research reactor, to be located at a Jordanian university and to become operational by 2015.

Korea is an important energy partner to us. And energy partners, in our energy-starved world, are very special partners. This is one of the reasons why we value so much our friendship and cooperation with South Korea.

Dong-A Ilbo: For the past year, the Arab Spring has been sweeping the Middle East. Though some of your neighbours have found themselves in the eye of the storm, Jordan remains stable. How do you explain that?

King Abdullah: The factors that contribute to Jordan’s stability are many and political scientists, analysts and historians have offered different explanations as to why our country has long been and remains an oasis of stability and security in our turbulent region and times. But let me try to offer at least a couple of reasons.

I would start with the fact that, when the Arab Spring started, Jordan had already long embarked upon a comprehensive and genuine reform process. In fact, our reform process started more than a decade ago. Reform in certain sectors had proceeded more smoothly than in others. Some reforms rallied a broad consensus, others were resisted by some groups and vested interests. But the political will and determination to implement a serious reform process had always been there. So, when the Arab Spring came, we did see protests in Jordan, but these protests did not stem from lack of reform per se, but rather from frustration at the economic situation – unemployment and insufficient economic growth – and from dissatisfaction with either the direction or pace of reform.

The second factor I would like to highlight is that in Jordan we lived the Arab Spring differently from other countries. We embraced it as an opportunity. Since day one of the demonstrations we took the decision to disarm our police and loosen requirements for public rallies and gatherings. We immediately set up a national dialogue committee and a committee to review and draft amendments to the Constitution. As a result, one third of the entire Constitution was amended in September and we are now setting up new democratic institutions and processes designed to widen representation, strengthen political parties, and increase popular participation in decision-making. I’m confident that 2012 will be the year of key political reform in Jordan and that we can set a regional model of peaceful political evolution and inclusive consensual democratisation.

Dong-A Ilbo: Jordan has been a trouble-shooter on many issues in the Middle East, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. What’s Jordan’s role in this regard?

King Abdullah: Achieving the two-state solution, with the establishment of a Palestinian state on Palestinian national soil with East Jerusalem as its capital, is a Jordanian national interest. Only once the Palestinians are guaranteed all their legitimate rights, including the right to statehood, only then will our region finally know peace and reap the fruits of stability, security and development.

Just think about all the resources, energies and funds that could finally be freed from military purposes and invested in education, health, research, innovation and overall growth and development. There are over 100 million young people in the Middle East between the age of 15 and 29, representing the largest youth cohort in the history of the region. Some analysts are referring to them as “the generation in waiting.” They are waiting for quality education and training, meaningful opportunities, decent jobs, the kind of security that will allow them to build a life for themselves, nurture their talents and pursue their aspirations. And none of this will ever be fully realised without peace.

This is why Jordan works around the clock to bring Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table and to keep alive the hope of peace. We do it for our Palestinian brothers, who have suffered innumerable injustices over the past 60 years, we do it for ourselves and for our young people, in Jordan and the region, and we do it for the Israelis, too, because only real peace, based on justice and international legitimacy, can bring real security to Israel, to the region, and beyond.

In January, Jordan succeeded in bringing Palestinian and Israeli negotiators back to the table for the first time in 16 months. They were only exploratory talks, baby steps, but, together with the international community, we will not stop trying.

Dong-A Ilbo: We have heard that the Korean TV drama series DaejangKum was broadcast in Jordan. What was the feedback? Have you ever watched it? If not, have you ever experienced any aspects of Korean culture?

King Abdullah: I think we are two traditional societies - traditional in the good way, proud of our traditions and heritage, true to our centuries-old values – and this is one of the things that Koreans and Jordanians have in common. This provides particularly fertile ground to expand our exchanges and cooperation in the cultural sector, in addition to many other areas where there is huge potential for fruitful cooperation, such as energy, water and infrastructure.

I’ve had a few opportunities to be exposed to Korean culture and heritage. I remember that one of my first visits after becoming King, in 1999, was to Korea, which is a testimony to the value I place on our friendship and partnership. My most recent visit, before this one, was four years ago. It is always a great honour and pleasure to be back in Seoul and at the Blue House.

Regarding your question on the TV drama series, I am afraid my schedule does not allow me much television entertainment time, especially mid-afternoon or late at night, which I believe is when that Korean series was broadcast on Jordan Television. But I heard about it. In Arabic, we called it “Jawharat Al Qasr” – the Jewel of the Palace. And I heard it was quite popular as well, they dubbed it into Arabic and broadcast it daily over a couple of months.

Dong-A Ilbo: I have read the public letter you sent to Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah when she was proclaimed queen. It is so romantic and noble. How would you describe yourself as a husband and a father?

King Abdullah: Fortunate. Blessed. Thankful.

God has given me many blessings. I was blessed with my one Jordanian family, a family of six million people whom I am immensely proud of. I was blessed to be husband to Rania and father to our children Hussein, Iman, Salma and Hashem.

Hussein is accompanying me on this trip. My father took me along with him on countless state visits, important foreign policy missions, and trips both at home and abroad. This gave me a golden opportunity to watch him and learn, and I am trying to afford my son the same opportunity.

Rania is my life companion, and a person of incredible strength and generosity. She works hard, with passion and dedication, to improve the situation of women and children in Jordan and further afield. Her work in education is pioneering and inspiring.

Dong-A Ilbo: Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah is very active on social media platforms.  Do you think social media can help leaders and politicians better communicate with citizens?

King Abdullah: I certainly do. We live in a world of instant communication, connectivity and multi-media platforms that give us instant access to pictures, videos and information on what is going on around us as well as at the other end of the planet. No tragedy, no injustice will any longer go unnoticed. And, with more information and more awareness comes also greater responsibility, and stronger pressures on decision-makers, governments and leaders, to do the right thing and act in pursue of the universal human values of peace, justice, democracy and freedoms.

In Jordan, we implemented an aggressive and very successful connectivity and education reform initiative that has made us the leaders in Arabic-language internet content production and management in the region. Jordan is now managing around two-thirds of all Arabic-language internet content for the region, and that is rather remarkable, considering that we account for only two per cent of the region’s population.  Eighty-six per cent of all Jordanian schools, private and public, are now connected to the internet. We have the highest penetration of bilingual Arabic-English speakers in the region, in addition to one of the highest percentages of engineers per capita in the world. And a few weeks ago I saw the announcement that the number of facebook users in Jordan now exceeds two million, or almost one third of the entire population. If you consider that almost another third of the population is below 15 years of age, this basically means that one in two Jordanians aged 15 and above has a facebook account.

Dong-A Ilbo: What’s your message to the Korean people?

King Abdullah: You are a model and a source of inspiration to many countries, including Jordan. What Korea has achieved over the past few decades, thanks to its people’s hard work, creativity and ability to innovate, stands as an example of growth and development greatly respected and admired throughout the world. I took with me on this trip a group of promising young Jordanians, because I am sure that they will be inspired by the things they are seeing and the people they are meeting here, and hopefully they will take back home at least a little part of the great Korean lesson, the miracle on the Han River.

I also want to tell Korean investors, business leaders and decision-makers that in Jordan they will always find not only a sincere friend, but also a great partner for business. There is huge potential in many fields, including energy, water and infrastructure. We are proud of the investment and business climate and regulatory environment that we have established and continue to improve. We’re open for business.