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Interview with King Abdullah II of Jordan

Aired March 18, 2002 - 08:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Good evening, and welcome to a Larry King Live special report. We'll be with you with our regular Larry King Live one hour from now with Rusty Yates as the special guest.

This half-hour report features King Abdullah of Jordan. He became king February 7, 1999, the day after his father, King Hussein passed three years.

Has it been everything you thought it would be?

KING ABDULLAH II OF JORDAN: It's been nothing like I thought it would be...

KING: Really?

ABDULLAH: I think we were obviously thrown into the deep end and none of us expected His Late Majesty to pass away. And I think we're still in shock. I mean, it's -- we still miss him.

KING: What is most surprising -- I mean, you can think about it, and you're a young man, about being king?

ABDULLAH: Well, I don't think one thinks that being king -- I think it's just the responsibility of really having to look after a very large family. And I said that -- and I had four kids, I mean a family of four, and now four million. And that's a tremendous responsibility to have suddenly thrusted on your shoulders.

KING: Is it a tough job?

ABDULLAH: It's a very tough job, because you want to do the right thing. You want to be able to help your people and bring some sort of peace and stability to the area. And there's a lot of challenges. We're in a tough neighborhood.

KING: And you're more than just king of four million people. You're in the center of a storm, right?

ABDULLAH: We're in a tough neighborhood.

KING: Are you the calm of this storm?

ABDULLAH: Well, I think, again, His Late Majesty sort of brought some sort of stability and common sense to the area, and I hope that we've inherited that attitude, that outlook, to think not only of our own people, but beyond our borders to bring common sense to the region.

KING: Now let's get to current things. What's the purpose of this trip?

ABDULLAH: Well, I'm over here again, trying to encourage support and investment toward ventures in my country. The economy is moving very well. We have a tremendous reform ongoing. And it's time to get people interested in joining it.

KING: The average Jordanian is still very low on the pay scale, isn't it?

ABDULLAH: Well, we're doing - low in compared to figures, I think we have a better standard of living than most, considering that we don't have any oil or natural resources. Our export or our wealth is really the human talent. And that's what I'm trying to capitalize on.

KING: Tourism's big.

ABDULLAH: Tourism, believe it or not, even with the 11th September and the intifada actually went up last year. So that kind of shows the stability that Jordan's all about.

KING: By the way, where were you September 11?

ABDULLAH: I was in the air over Nova Scotia when we first started to hear the news.

KING: What did you do?


KING: Where were you going?

ABDULLAH: We were coming to the United States. I was actually coming to Los Angeles and we were going to see the president a few days after that and then up to the United Nations Security Council. And it didn't dawn on us right away. I mean, a plane had gone into the building. We really didn't realize the extent. And I remember going into the cockpit and turning on the BBC World Service and it began to slightly dawn on us the extent of the catastrophe, and we headed home. And we realized that it was not the right time to burden the American administration with another guest.

KING: What times. And the result since, of course, have been...

ABDULLAH: Have been. I mean, as shocking and terrible as the 11th of September was, I think it's been a wake-up call. It's really brought countries around the world together to try and bring about a new standard. And I think that it was a timely wake-up call, and I hope that we can finally get our act together.

KING: We have conflicting reports, as we always do in the American press, about your meeting with Vice President Cheney last week in Amman. How did it go?

ABDULLAH: It went extremely well.

KING: There were some negative -- people were reporting that some things didn't click. Is that true or not?

ABDULLAH: I think everything clicked well. He came to the house. We had dinner together. I thought it was a very successful meeting. And we are looking forward to seeing the president in Mexico in the next couple of days.

KING: What is Jordan's role in all of this Middle East quagmire?

ABDULLAH: Well, I think we're in a unique role, because we have great relations with everybody. And in the particular scenario that you're talking about, with the Israelis and the Palestinians, and obviously with the Arab countries, so we are in a unique position to sort of break down the barriers and misunderstanding and bring people together.

KING: Are you a broker?

ABDULLAH: I hate the idea of being a broker or middle man, but when we see problems we can step in and say this is the other side of the story, encourage and nudge people in the right direction.

KING: There apparently will not be a meeting between Arafat and Sharon, correct. That's the latest we hear as we talk.

ABDULLAH: Again, but things are changing every day. I think that there is a new emphasis to get the problem behind them, so I believe that in the very near future I really do hope that we will get the Palestinians and the Israelis sitting around a table. Whether that's tomorrow, in a week's time, I don't know, but that's what working on.

KING: Have you talked to President Bush about this at all?

ABDULLAH: I've talked on many occasions with the president. I saw him about six weeks ago in Washington; be seeing him again in Mexico, I hope, on Thursday, Friday. So obviously the peace process is going to be high on the agenda.

KING: What is -- you can elaborate all you want -- what is, to the totally uninitiated, why can't these people stop killing each other?

ABDULLAH: Well, I think that the political element has fallen so far apart that people have gotten themselves into a rut that they can't get themselves out. And I think that the Saudi initiative reminds the leaders that at the end of the day it's the people that are paying the price, it's the Palestinians and the Israelis that are losing their lives.

And the Saudi proposal, in simplicity, basically says that we, as Arabs, want to have peace with Israel. I think that's an important message to the Arab street, more important to the Israelis, that there is a future, us together. And I think the more that the Israelis and the Palestinians can hold onto that, the more that they can enforce their leaders to sit down and solve this problem.

KING: Were you surprised at the way it was offered, through a "New York Times" journalists, Thomas Friedman?

ABDULLAH: Well, Thomas Friedman is a great friend of the area, and I think that it was great that it came out. I think it was a very courageous step for Crown Prince Abdullah to do. Obviously, Jordan and Egypt have peace with Israel, so it's not as important if we said it, but for a large Muslim Arab country like Saudi Arabia to come with this is very significant.

KING: If it worked, would the United States or some international force have to patrol that peace because of the lack of trust?

ABDULLAH: Well, I think we're too early to be able to talk about that, but definitely the United States and the international community would have to be an umbrella for further negotiations to get to the point, I hope.

KING: Do you think that plan might come about?

ABDULLAH: Well, we're all working for it at the Beirut summit next week, which is the annual Arab summit meeting. We, as moderates, hope that we're going to win the day by endorsing the Saudi plan and getting a new basis to get the Israelis and Palestinians together again.

KING: We'll be right back with His Majesty, King Abdullah of Jordan, on this LARRY KING LIVE special report. Don't go away.


KING: We're with King Abdullah of Jordan on this LARRY KING LIVE special report.

Just to reprise it, are you saying there will be a cease-fire?

ABDULLAH: Well, I think that we, as Arab countries, if we have the right message in Beirut and make it clear to Arabs and Israelis alike that it is in the vested interest of Arab countries to have peace with Israel, I think that's a good beginning.

I think the Israelis, at the end of the day, you know, they don't know whether they'll ever be included into the neighborhood. From the Arab point of view and the Palestinian point of view, we don't know whether there'll be a Palestinian state. So I think when we identify the givens, the goals, I think it makes it much easier to achieve peace.

Because nobody understands what George Tenet is or George Mitchell on the ground. And if you do achieve George Tenet and George Mitchell, where do you go from there? If the Palestinians know they're going to have a state, if the Israelis know that there's going to be peace and security, that they're going to be able to be safe and they're going to be part of the neighborhood, then it's worthwhile fighting for peace.

KING: No leader can prevent fanatics, though, can he?

ABDULLAH: Definitely not. You're always going to have that. But again, the closer we get to peace, the more the fanatics are going to try and derail it, and we have to have the courage to be able to go beyond that.

KING: And what is the position of King Abdullah vis-a-vis Iraq and the possibility of violence against Iraq by this country? There's was a front page headline in the "LA Times" yesterday that you strongly oppose it. However, just to add, a "Newsweek" magazine report's out today, a knowledgeable source telling "Newsweek" that King Abdullah of Jordan indicated to Dick Cheney that if the Israeli- Palestinian crisis eased and the United States moves swiftly and decisively against Saddam and Iraq, Jordan would have no objection.

ABDULLAH: Well, I'd always have to be suspicious of knowledgeable sources, I think, to begin with.


KING: ... not said to Cheney.

ABDULLAH: It wasn't. And again, I think there's been a great hype that Dick Cheney's tour was solely on Iraq. It wasn't. Obviously, Iraq issue is important to the United States, but he came, I think, to listen to people, to talk about, obviously, there's concerns about Iraq as we move to the United Nations Security Council meeting on May 30 about the weapons inspectors.

It equally is important more the Palestinian security force.

KING: What is the Jordanian position regarding Iraq?

ABDULLAH: Listen, we really believe that the dialogue is the only way to proceed. Iraq is such a complicated issue made of three ethnic groups. But if you were to start an armed conflict with Iraq, you don't know where it is going to lead. It's not another Afghanistan and the potential of the unknown is what worries everybody. And so, as a result, we believe let's try dialogue. That is the way to try to solve the problem. We hope that the United Nations, on May 30, and the Iraqis are going to be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) enough to come to an agreement with the United Nations.

KING: If the United States were to prove to the world that there are weapons of mass destruction being manufactured in Iraq and Iraq were not allowing inspectors in and they had ways of proving it, would you then support action?


KING: If Iraq didn't do anything? ABDULLAH: I think it is very -- always very difficult when you get (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because my answer back to that (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But when you talk about weapons of mass destruction, wouldn't it be great if we start a policy that will cross the region, from Israel to India, we can solve the problem, because whenever you have weapons of mass destruction, there's always going to be a threat around.

KING: So you're saying, right now, action would be a mistake?

ABDULLAH: I strongly believe that right now, action would be a mistake because you don't know the end result and with the crisis going on with the Palestinians and the Israelis, I don't think the Middle East would handle any sort of strike.

KING: Do you talk with Mr. Hussein?

ABDULLAH: I haven't talked to him, personally, no. He recently sent his vice president of his (ph). And, again, we encouraged him strongly to be as flexible and as open-minded as possible with the May 30 deadline in mind.

KING: Your father spoke to him frequently (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ABDULLAH: Well, again, that was in the 80s. It was tied to Iran/Iraq.

KING: Did you like the evil speech, the axis of evil speech by the president?

ABDULLAH: Well, I have to be very careful here because I was asked that question when I came to see the president right after the speech. And for some reason, they said that I endorsed the plan. The president has explained to me when I asked him what he meant by the axis of evil that he was giving those three countries notice. In other words, from his point of view, that there is a great question on the way that they were dealing with the international community, and that they had better make up their minds where they are going to stand. Otherwise, they are going to have a problem with the United States. That's how the problem -- or the situation was explained to me by the president.

KING: And that you would endorse?

ABDULLAH: Well, again...

KING: Not the terminology?

ABDULLAH: Well, I don't think -- I mean, axis of evil, from my point of view, is probably a very strong term. But again, I think the president after 11 September told the international community you either join the club or you don't. From his point of view, he felt that those countries were not moving in the right direction and wanted to give them notice.

KING: The president has not met with Mr. Arafat. Should the vice president? ABDULLAH: I always think that if you want to solve problems, you need to sit down face to face with the people, and listen to what they have to say and what you have to say. So, I would always encourage. I do hope that Arafat does meet with the vice president, and I hope that the situation presents itself that the president meets with him too.

KING: Do you talk to President Sharon?

ABDULLAH: Well, we have been in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) since Jordan has a very good relationship with Israel because of the peace that we have between our two countries. So there is always contact with the Israeli government, especially at a time when there is crisis because when Arafat has some difficulties, sometimes we have to get in touch with the Israelis and vice versa to try and help de-escalate the tension.

KING: Do you talk to Mr. Arafat?

ABDULLAH: I talk to him on a regular basis. When he has difficulties and again to pass messages to him if his needs should be more, or that if he has difficulties in trying to pass his point of view to either the Israelis or to the West.

KING: Where do you find your confidence from that this situation can heal?


KING: History is against it.

ABDULLAH: Yes, but if we were to have a lack of confidence, that means that we have given up. And we can't afford that in that part of the world. So, you know, you get knocked down, you have got to get yourself right back up on your feet. You have got to keep attacking this problem until you solve it. And we came very close.

I think that with Arafat and Barak, 98 percent of the problem was almost there to be solved.

KING: Why didn't they accept that?

ABDULLAH: Again, I think it was the timeline. A week later, the Clinton administration left the scene and Barak lost his elections to Sharon. And I think that given more time, I think that we would have come along.

KING: Are you satisfied with how the Bush administration to this point is dealing with the situation?

ABDULLAH: Well, again, you have to understand the president's point of view, that he calls his move the presidential card. And the way he explained it to me, that when he plays that presidential card, it has to work. If he fails, then we go back to the drawing board.

So he wants to make sure that everything is in line. I mean, I have all the admiration for Colin Powell, that's done a terrific job trying to get a crack in the door to try and solve the problem.

KING: We'll be back with some more moments with King Abdullah of Jordan, and then THE POINT will come aboard at the bottom of the hour and we'll have our regular edition of LARRY KING LIVE at 9 Eastern with Rusty Yates.

Right back with more of His Majesty after this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was born and raised here. Served in the military. And has flown, dived, climbed, trekked and camped throughout the entire country. And so, while he may know this land better than just about anyone, he's not just any tour guide. He is King Abdullah II, and you are invited on the royal tour.


KING: That's courtesy of the travel channel. King -- where was your bodyguards, they were on the...

ABDULLAH: Oh, I was just saying that we had the greatest fun, because to get those shots, they couldn't have any bodyguards around. So I had the whole day driving around the desert by myself.

KING: Did you have a tough time convincing security to let you do this?

ABDULLAH: Actually, they were pretty flexible. I was very happy. And it was just nice to be back out by myself in the world again, the real world.

KING: You drive motorcycles?

ABDULLAH: Yes. I used to commute to work when I used to work in England.

KING: Like your father, do you fly airplanes?

ABDULLAH: I fly helicopters. I learned in the army as an attack helicopter pilot. And now fly myself around the country.

KING: That travel -- that's a good idea, I guess, to promote tourism?

ABDULLAH: Yes, and it was just a different way of doing things. Instead of going to see the traditional sights, you know, having grown up in Jordan and being to all the out-of-the-way places, the secret places of Jordan. And the idea of this show was to go off the beaten path and show, you know, some of the unusual spots of my country.

KING: A couple of other things, Your Majesty. How goes the war on terror? ABDULLAH: The war on terror, I believe is going very well. The war on terror before 11 September was never very good, because unfortunately, the good guys don't work as well as the bad guys, or they didn't before the 11th of September. After the incidents of New York and Washington, everybody came together, and people are trading information, supporting each other. We're going to win this war. I'm convinced of that.

KING: It's going to be a long time winning though? When's it going to end, then?

ABDULLAH: Well, you're always going to have isolated incidences. But I think the military part of it will be shorter than people think. And then you come to the diplomatic, financial, economic side of combating terrorism, and the use of funding and support.

KING: What's 9-11 done to the Islamic world?

ABDULLAH: Well, I believe that it's been a wake-up call. I've always felt that it was never a struggle between East and West as most people understand it. There are those extremists that have used our religion to condone the killing of innocent people. And I think the 11th of September was a wake-up call to the Muslim masses that there are a bunch of extremists out there that have distorted our religion so badly, that we need to stand up and put a stop to this. And it's a element that has really turned our religion upside-down and...

KING: How did that happen, that you could take a religion that all that we've heard is of peace, and make it a religion of war?

ABDULLAH: Well, again, I don't think the international community -- I mean, the signs were there. His Majesty had warned the West about this in the early '80s, and people didn't take it seriously. I mean, you could see the phenomenon growing up, you could see the funding going. And this globalization was allowed to put its roots all over the world.

Now, we have to combat it. I think it's easier in the Middle East because Arabic is the first language. I'm concerned about our friends in Asia, because Arabic is not, and that's where they were more successful, by teaching non-Arabic speaking Muslims that this is what the Koran or what God stands for. And I think that the majority of the support that we need to be able to do, once we win our part of the battlefield, is to help our friends in Asia.

KING: People in the middle are often, or can be targets, as we had the tragedy with Sadat. Do you -- are you concerned about your safety?

ABDULLAH: No, well, I mean, I spent a career in the army for 20 years. And I always was getting myself into trouble. So I think being in danger is nothing new. But at the same time, if you have a faith in God, as my father did, then he was quite sure that he was put on the Earth to do good. And I hope that I've inherited from him the strength to do the right thing. And you have to do, come what may, have the courage of your convictions and do what's right. And, you know, if you're a target, you're a target. But I don't think that that really makes me lose any sleep.

KING: What are you expecting in Mexico this week?


KING: Thursday and Friday, isn't it?

ABDULLAH: We have an economic summit there. I do hope to use the opportunity, obviously, to see the president. It's very important, as I mentioned earlier, that when we go to Beirut, for us...

KING: That's next week, right?

ABDULLAH: Next week, right, yes, for us moderates to win the day that we to have Arafat leave the territories to come to the conference...

KING: In Beirut?

ABDULLAH: In Beirut. Equally important, he has to be allowed to return. And so I hope to discuss those points with the president.

KING: And then so -- your trip -- you stay here until you go to Mexico?

ABDULLAH: I will be leaving to Mexico tomorrow, and then I'll be returning to Jordan right away after Mexico.

KING: Are you optimistic about the Arab conference?

ABDULLAH: I am very optimistic now because there has been a tremendous consensus by the Arab countries. I was in Syria, the Gulf countries; obviously, in contact with the Saudis. Even the Iraqis, when I spoke to their vice president, said that he wouldn't stand against a proposal. They're going to stay neutral. So, looking at the glass half full there.

KING: Always good seeing you.

ABDULLAH: Thank you very much. Always a pleasure.

KING: King Abdullah of Jordan. The king of Jordan has been in that post for over three years now since the death of his late, great father.

The last thing that I remind you of on this program is that THE POINT is going to start right now. We'll see you in a half hour.




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