Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Lally Weymouth
The Washington Post
25 October 2011

"Jordan’s King Abdullah on Egypt, Syria and Israel"


The Washington Post: How do you see Egypt’s future?

King Abdullah: I went to Egypt after visiting the U.S. in May. I had a message from the administration for General Tantawi. [Mohammed Hussein Tantawi is head of Egypt’s military ruling council.]

The Washington Post: How did your visit to Egypt go?

King Abdullah: With Tantawi — fantastic. We had a very good meeting.

The Washington Post: It is astounding that Tantawi did not take President Obama’s call for hours the night the Israelis were trapped in their embassy in Egypt.

King Abdullah: The feeling I got from the Egyptian leadership is that if they stick [their] necks out, they will just get lambasted like [former president Hosni] Mubarak did. So I think they are playing safe by just keeping their heads down, which I think... sometimes allows things to get out of control... Tantawi thinks there is too much pressure on him.

The Washington Post: From the streets?

King Abdullah: No, from the West.

The Washington Post: Do you and other leaders in this area believe you cannot rely on the U.S.?

King Abdullah: I think everybody is wary of dealing with the West... Looking at how quickly people turned their backs on Mubarak, I would say that most people are going to try and go their own way. I think there is going to be less coordination with the West and therefore a chance of more misunderstandings. Egypt is trying to develop its own way of moving forward.

The Washington Post:  And Jordan?

King Abdullah: Two things make Jordan stand out. One is that we reached out to everybody and got a national dialogue committee. The other thing that made a major impact is that we have had demonstrations for the past 11 months but... nobody has been killed. It was a decision taken [from] day one that we disarmed all our police. In other countries... their solution was to pull out their guns and shoot.

The Washington Post:  Do you think President Bashar al-Assad of Syria can last?

King Abdullah: We have been very careful to keep all channels of ommunication open with the Syrians.

The Washington Post:  Does that mean you have talked to President Assad?

King Abdullah: I spoke to Bashar al-Assad twice in the springtime... Basically, they were not interested in listening to our advice. They basically told us that there are a bunch of thugs in Syria and they had everything under control. A couple of times I have felt that I should reach out to him, but I really don’t know what to say. I think he does have reform in his soul but I don’t think that type of regime allows for any potential reformist.

The Washington Post:  People are asking about an alternative to President Assad — can another Alawite or a Sunni overthrow him?

King Abdullah: Nobody has an answer to Syria... The regime seems to be quite strong. I think you are going to see continued violence for the time being.

The Washington Post:  In the West, you hear over and over that Assad’s days are numbered.

King Abdullah: My view is when you use violence on your people, that never ends well. But anybody would be challenged to say if that’s [in] six months, six years or 16 years.

The Washington Post: What is your assessment of Libya?

King Abdullah: It took everybody by surprise. We were committed to the transitional council from Day One.

The Washington Post: So you think the death of Colonel Gaddafi is a good thing?

King Abdullah: There is an old saying that peace is going to be much harder than war. I think the challenge for Libya now is how to make this transition peacefully.

The Washington Post: I heard that Hamas’s leader, Khaled Meshal, is coming to Jordan.

King Abdullah: Because of the loss of Egypt’s political leadership, the rest of us are having to step up. On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Jordan’s relationship with the Palestinians has had to take a step forward.

The Washington Post: You support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s request for U.N. membership?

King Abdullah: Yes, we do. It is out of desperation and frustration that they are going to the U.N. I think part of the problem is that in the U.S., you have your other [domestic] priorities... I think the [Obama] administration would be very wary to step out front without guarantees on the Israeli-Palestinian process, which is a shame because it is desperately needed now.

The Washington Post:  [The Arab Spring] is a disaster for Israel, isn’t it?

King Abdullah: You have seen what has happened in Egypt [and] Turkey. We are actually the last man standing with our relationship with Israel.

The Washington Post: The Israelis are worried the Egyptians will break the [peace] treaty.

King Abdullah: That is a very, very strong possibility.

The Washington Post: Do you intend to support Jordan’s treaty with Israel?

King Abdullah: We have a peace treaty with Israel and will continue to do so because it helps all parties.

The Washington Post: A lot of Israelis think your recent statements have been hostile.

King Abdullah: What I am saying is they are missing an opportunity here and I am very concerned. This is the most frustrated I have ever been about the peace process. I think a lot of us have come to the conclusion that this particular [Israeli] government is not interested in a two-state solution.

The Washington Post: What did you think of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deal with Hamas to release an Israeli soldier?

King Abdullah: It is politics at the end of the day.

The Washington Post: It was strange for Israel to be negotiating with Hamas.

King Abdullah: I think all of us have been asking each other, what is the Israeli government’s true intention right now? Since I am not convinced there is an interest in a two-state solution, the question I am asking is: What is Plan B?

The Washington Post: You just appointed a new prime minister.

King Abdullah: The new prime minister, Awn Khasawneh, has got an impeccable record; he is the ideal person to get us to national elections as quickly as possible.

The Washington Post: If you look five years down the line, do you see yourself relinquishing some power to the parliament?

King Abdullah: Probably sooner. We haven’t shut any doors on relinquishing power. My mission is as quickly as possible to get Jordan to have a prime minister elected from a political party... We need to create new political parties based on programmes...

The Arab Spring didn’t start because of politics; it started because of economics — poverty and unemployment... What keeps me up at night is not political reform because I am clear on where we are going. What keeps me up at night is the economic situation because if people are going to get back on the streets, it is because of economic challenges, not political.