This past weekend, King Abdullah of Jordan played host to many dignitaries, including U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, at a World Economic Forum meeting held at the Dead Sea. In his hotel suite, the young monarch spoke to Lally Weymouth of Newsweek and The Post. Excerpts:
Q. Do you think that the impact of the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq will have a long-lasting effect in this region if those that are involved are brought to justice?
A. It will be long-lasting due to the fact that there are other pictures and video clips that have not come out. Having said that, in the U.S. you have the rule of law, and if the rule of law takes place and those perpetrators are brought to justice, that will placate international opinion.
What is your assessment of the situation in Iraq?
Leading up to the handover, you are going to have even more of a rise of instability. There are elements in Iraq that are going to try to create sectarian violence. Those elements want to continue to do that because an unstable Iraq is where they can establish themselves.
Do you worry about a possible breakup of Iraq?
Even before the war, a lot of us in the international community focused on the threat of the breakup of Iraq. That was the major concern -- not so much the war, but what would happen after the war. And now, I think for the first time, many in the international community feel uncomfortable because that [breakup] seems to be more of a possibility than it did a year ago.
Are you concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq and the possibility of having a Shiite state on your border?
There is Iranian influence, but you can't say that is the only issue. We have to be very careful about how we integrate the Sunni sector back into Iraqi life. Identify once and for all the Baathists that are non grata, whether it is 100 or 10,000, so that the Sunni society knows that it has a stake in the future of Iraq and knows it has a role to play. At the moment, the Sunnis don't know.
You say identify the bad Baathists?
Identify them, but then let everybody else off the hook. As you are aware, if you wanted to be a teacher or an engineer, you had to be a Baath party member. . . . Let's once and for all clarify who are the bad guys and then bring the Sunnis into being part of the plan.
The other issue is the reconstitution of the Iraqi army. You don't take the top generals, but you work down from the rank of colonel or major. Now, because there is the issue of Fallujah and Najaf, you can't be too particular about who you pick. Dramatic times probably need dramatic solutions.
Do you see a link between the war in Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli peace process?
They sort of feed off one another. The core issue in the hearts of everybody in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian one.
Does it put a lot of pressure on America's friends in this region -- like yourself -- if there is no peace process?
Exactly. Part of the problem is the perception that the U.S. is not being balanced. What worries me is that there is tremendous anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East and the world -- which I find very disconcerting. It's the image people see of Israeli tanks with Palestinians and American tanks with Iraqis.
Do you feel that you got President Bush to walk back from the commitments he made to Israeli Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon?
My visit to Washington confirmed America's commitment to the "road map," to a two-state solution and to moving the process forward.
If Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza goes ahead, do you see this as positive, and what role could Jordan play?
As long as it is part of an identified process, which we believe is the road map, anything that assists in moving forward is positive.
What are you hoping for from the Palestinians?
I am hoping they have a comprehensive strategy to articulate to the American administration that "this is what is needed and this is what the Palestinians are prepared to do." I mentioned to them that this is a golden opportunity not to be missed.
As long as [Yasser] Arafat controls the security forces and really calls the shots, is it really possible for [Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia] to do anything?
I think it is very important for the Palestinian prime minister to have institutions of government that we recognize, and at the moment that is not the case. You have to strengthen the security apparatuses and the government institutions under a prime minister.
Are you afraid that if Israel completes the fence, a lot of refugees will come into Jordan?
My concern about the wall is the future of the Jewish state of Israel because you put 1.4 million Palestinians or Israeli Arabs inside Israel proper . . . will Israel still be a Jewish state? Will there be democracy or apartheid?
At the upcoming Arab summit, do you hope to push the reform agenda?
We are working hard for a reform agenda and for a unified Arab position against extremism and terrorism targeting innocent civilians, which means suicide bombers.
We went to the Arab countries and said, "Look, you need to come together with a blueprint for Arab reform. If you do not articulate such a blueprint, one may be forced upon you." We in Jordan are in the clear: We have our plans and are not using regional problems as an excuse. We are moving forward, as are some of the other moderate countries. But the rest of you, "Wake up!" The Middle East is changing. If you don't get that process going, one will be forced on you.
If the U.S. were to lose in Iraq, what would be the price in this region -- would it embolden rejectionists?
The worst-case scenario of losing in Iraq is civil war there. . . . We have seen in history what Lebanon was like during its civil war, but this would be 10 times worse. [The U.S.] must get the transition right. If they don't, we are in for serious trouble.
Jordan just seized a shipment of chemical weapons that al Qaeda was trying to smuggle into your country.
It was 20 tons of chemical weapons that were a mixture of nerve and blister agents. The idea was to create five separate explosions, creating a dirty cloud of blister and nerve agents. It was a [Abu Musab] Zarqawi operation, a Jordanian [close to al Qaeda] who is in Iraq.
Why is Jordan a target of al Qaeda?
Because we are one of the most aggressive organizations fighting al Qaeda.