Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Abdel Bari Atwan
Al Quds Al Arabi
08 April 1999
(Translated from Arabic)

Jordan is in a state of waiting. The government and opposition agreed to freeze their differences and show every possible desire to cooperate so as to end the country's economic crisis and bolster its stability. Thus, it was not surprising when Mr. Abdul Raouf Rawabdeh's government won confidence with a record-setting 66 votes in Parliament.

Jordan's monarch, King Abdullah, admits that the biggest challenge facing his new era is primarily an economic one. In an exclusive interview with Al Quds Al Arabi, he said that the next six months will be crucial and that priority will be given to the economy, the creation of job opportunities for the citizens, and to meeting their demands.

King Abdullah, whom we met in Salam Palace yesterday afternoon, was calm, self-confident, and modest in his behaviour. This modesty bears many characteristics of his late father. He knows his priorities as well as the nature of the task he is facing.

He had just returned from his visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. All the officials who accompanied him on this visit agreed that it was very successful, saying that the Saudis showed every possible desire to cooperate in various fields.

King Abdullah said: “In our Gulf relations, we act from the premise of our understanding of these countries' current conditions, specifically the financial ones. Therefore we did not ask for financial aid or grants. We are looking for real economic cooperation that benefits both sides' interests, such as opening the doors for Jordanian manpower--which is qualified and experienced--and opening the markets for Jordanian industrial and agricultural products and commodities.”

He stressed: “We will not establish relations with an Arab country at the expense of another one. We aspire to good relations with all countries on the basis of common interests. Therefore I will make official visits during the coming days to Syria, Libya, the Sultanate of Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.”

Throughout the interview, King Abdullah was eager to stress that "Jordan will not be dragged into any kind of military or political intervention in Iraq." He said: “We in Jordan are at the start of a new era. We are giving priority to our domestic situation, the reorganisation of our house, and the strengthening of national unity. Therefore we do not aspire to any regional role in Iraq or any other country. We have explained this to all the Gulf officials we have met. Our main concern here in Jordan is to see a united and stable Iraq and its people not suffering.” He stressed that Jordan's territory will not be a base for launching any hostile action against Iraq.

The Iraqi opposition does not have any political or media activities in Jordan at present. Local papers treat the Iraqi affair almost neutrally, though there are some articles that still show much sympathy for the Iraqi people, call for lifting the blockade imposed on it, and warn of US plots to partition the country. Other articles praised Saudi Arabia and its role in serving Arab and Islamic causes. They highlighted the common denominators between it and Jordan but were written in an exaggerated way. Such articles are unfamiliar in Jordan.

The Jordanian Monarch expressed deep satisfaction with his country's developing relations with Egypt. He said that coordination between the two countries in various fields is at a very high level. He praised the personal and family ties with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, which were recently deepened during the meetings they held in Sharm El Sheikh.

King Abdullah did not hide his great admiration for Bashar Assad, the Syrian president's son. He said that Bashar was somewhat reserved at the start of their meeting in Amman when he visited to convey condolences. But he then spoke about his vision of Syria's future. It was a modern vision that absorbed the prevailing current political and strategic changes in the world.

King Abdullah repeatedly stressed during the meeting that relations between Jordan and Israel will never be at the expense of relations with the Arab countries, particularly Syria, Iraq and Egypt, in addition to Palestine. He said: I do not have any problem with any Arab country. We in this new era are opening a clean page with everyone on the basis of mutual respect. Jordan is ultimately an Arab country and cannot change its skin.

Like other neighbouring Arab countries, Jordan is waiting for the results of the coming Israeli election because of its possible political and economic consequences. He believes that the most serious possible consequence would be the start of the final-status negotiations. He said: “Jordan will not interfere in these negotiations and will not let itself be dragged into them because they should be held with the concerned party, that is, the Palestinian one. It will resist all pressures that might be exerted on it to do so.”

Jordanian officials fear that the Israelis might insist on including Jordan as a partner in these negotiations because it has a strong military establishment capable of providing the security they want as a principal condition for signing the final-status agreements.

King Abdullah said: “I agreed with President Yasser Arafat not to allow a third party to interfere between us or exploit any contradictions that might arise, to continue the direct contacts between us and consultation on all major and minor things, and to remove any misunderstanding that might arise.”

When we asked for his personal view of the question of confederation, which President Arafat spoke about recently, he said: “Our doors in Jordan are open to every form of possible cooperation with the Palestinians, but [that is] after the establishment of the independent Palestinian state and the conclusion of the final-status negotiations.”

He repeatedly said that Jordan will support and back the Palestinian side in these negotiations and will put all its experience and resources at its disposal.

Several Jordanian officials said they were astounded by President Arafat's statements on confederation and the report that he had reached agreement on it with late King Hussein. They said they were surprised by these statements and their timing only a few days after the death of the late king. One of them said: “How can we know now after King Hussein's death whether there was an agreement? “

King Abdullah is looking toward better economic cooperation with the West. He said that he is patiently waiting for the G-7 meeting early this summer to see what decisions it will take. He expressed his hope that a large part of Jordan's debts would be written off, because this decision would help the country overcome the current economic crisis.

The new Jordanian King was wearing a blue suit and was amiable. The smile never left his face. He is growing a beard. His features looked very like those of his late father. He spoke Arabic but with a pronounced Jordanian accent throughout the interview which was attended by Abdulkarim Kabariti, chief of the Royal Court.

Many Jordanian politicians believe that King Abdullah's era will be a different one that reflects his character and vision and will not be identical to his father's in detail, though they will be identical on some general points, especially the issue of "balance" in relations at the domestic level and with neighbouring countries.

When we asked him whether his late father asked him to take some specific political steps, he replied with much emotion: “I did not have the luck to be with him for long periods of time before his death. But I was next to him for more than twenty years and learned many things. He was a father and a teacher. But during his last moments, he looked at me for a long time and said: ‘O Abdullah, you have a big human heart. Always follow it for it will tell you the truth.”