Transcript of Interview, Jordan’s King Abdullah 4-10-07

The following appeared in the Jordan Times 4-11-07. Material remains online for one week.

Arab Peace Initiative enjoys consensus — King

Following is the full text of King Abdullah’s interview with Randa Habib, Agence France-Presse, on Tuesday:AFP: Your Majesty, the Arab summit decided unanimously to relaunch the Arab Peace Initiative. Does this mean that countries like Syria and groups like Hamas are committed to direct negotiations with Israel?King Abdullah: The Arab Peace Initiative has gained Arab consensus both at the Beirut summit in 2002 and the Riyadh summit in 2007. This indicates the Arabs’ sincere desire to reach a just and comprehensive peace that will pave the way for future generations to live in security, stability and peace. It will also enable the entire region’s peoples to build a better future. If we are to reach real peace, we need full commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative by all parties. The ball is now in Israel’s court. As for Syria and Hamas, we are not aware of any objections on their part to the initiative, and that means they support it.AFP: Jordan and Egypt are expected to have a key role in the “working teams” created by the summit to follow up with Israel on the Arab Peace Initiative. What do you expect to be your first move?

King: Naturally, there will be mechanisms to activate the Arab Peace Initiative and maintain the momentum achieved before, during and after the Riyadh summit. We have been and continue to be active on all fronts to advance it in the international community. I believe this will be the core responsibility of the committees and working teams. We are in constant touch with Arab leaders and the Arab League to ensure the initiative achieves its goals; a comprehensive resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a solution to the Palestinian issue — the core conflict in the region — and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, living in security side by side with Israel. The Israeli people should recognise that the Arab Peace Initiative reflects collective Arab will to build a peace that puts an end to years of violence and suffering. They also should acknowledge that this is a unique opportunity in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and that it is time they work to convince their leaders of the need to resume peace negotiations in accordance with this initiative that guarantees security and stability for all.

AFP: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said peace could be possible within five years, do you think the region can hold out so long?

King: Peace can be reached during a much shorter time, if goodwill prevails, and I have frequently warned about the dangers of wasting this opportunity to achieve peace and establish security in the region. Failing to consider the repercussions of the prevalence of violence in the region will not be in anyone’s interest. I have urged Israel on many occasions to reach out to the Arab hand that has been extended in peace, if it wants to be part of the region and a partner for peace. Frankly, this opportunity may not come again. For we may find in one or two or more years that the geographic reality has changed in a way that may make it impossible to establish the state aspired to by the Palestinian people, especially in light of the continuation of the construction of settlements and the separation barrier. Hence everyone will lose; primarily Israel. It is in Israel’s interest to adopt the peace proposal offered by the Arabs in this initiative. Otherwise we will witness more destruction, chaos, frustration and despair which will inflame extremism and violence and be a breeding ground for terrorism that targets all and excludes none. Here I would like to emphasise that Israel, the European states and the US should realise that the Palestinian issue does not only concern the Palestinians, but also has the sympathy of all Muslims from Indonesia to the Maghreb states. As such, if Israel wants to coexist with more than a billion Muslims, it should end its occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands.

AFP: Let me follow up on the previous question. How do you view Olmert’s offer for a summit with Arab leaders to discuss what he calls the Saudi-drafted peace plan?

King: Let me clarify that we have not received any official Israeli response, except for what has appeared in the media. It is crucial here that we choose our words and phrases clearly and precisely. We are speaking of an Arab Peace Initiative endorsed by Arab leaders at the summit in Beirut in 2002. They renewed their commitment to all its articles at the Riyadh summit. And as I mentioned earlier, the Israelis have to deal with the initiative seriously and clearly, and demonstrate their intentions to live in security and stability. If Israeli leaders choose not to, then I think they would neither be serving their people nor contributing to peace efforts and an end to the core conflict. It is important that they revive negotiations and return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians to resolve all pending issues in order to pave the way for real, comprehensive and lasting peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours. This will lead to the normalisation of ties between the two sides as outlined in the initiative, which I believe is an unprecedented opportunity to break the cycle of violence and chaos and end the core conflict in the region.

AFP: Israel is clearly opposed to the return of Palestinian refugees. How will this issue be solved?

King: Under no circumstances can a real peace be reached without resolving the Palestinian refugee issue. There are numerous international resolutions that address the problem, and as you know, the issue of Palestinian refugees is one of the sensitive and crucial issues. It is addressed in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of December 11, 1948. It was also highlighted by the Arab Peace Initiative that called for a solution agreed by both sides and is not imposed by anyone. Direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on the issue will constitute a suitable basis for finding a final solution to the Palestinian refugee issue. What is important is that Israel deal seriously with the Palestinian issue and respond to efforts that seek a comprehensive solution and an end to the conflict that can achieve lasting peace enjoyed by all peoples of the region. This peace should be based on international legitimacy and the Arab Peace Initiative, which is the framework for achieving these objectives, including the establishment of a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel.

AFP: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani have both called the US presence in Iraq an occupation, at a time when the US Congress is pushing for a timetable for a withdrawal. What is your opinion about that?

King: The problem with Iraq is that Iraqis themselves are divided between those supporting US-led coalition forces in their country, those rejecting and resisting them as occupation, and those that seek to disrupt the political process and national reconciliation efforts. This group also seeks to undermine the unity of Iraq by inciting sedition, sectarian strife and carrying out terrorist acts targeting Iraqi civilians. The increased threat of violence, tension and sectarian strife, which already claims hundreds of lives daily, makes it very important to address the critical situation in Iraq. This [threat] can only be overcome by helping the Iraqis achieve national reconciliation and involving all sectors of Iraqi society in the political process, and by preserving the unity of Iraq, its territorial integrity and the future of its people over all personal or sectarian interests. Withdrawal from Iraq without setting a timetable and without preparing the necessary conditions that would ensure a strong central government able to run the affairs of the state and an Iraqi force able to ensure security and stability, may only worsen the problem and contribute to increasing violence and conflict among Iraqis.

AFP: What is the possibility of sectarian violence extending to other countries in the region?

King: Today everybody realises that once you start a sectarian issue it is very, very difficult to pull back. So all responsible regional actors, including Iran, understand that going down this path will be disastrous to the whole region.

AFP: Saudi Arabia has opened a channel of dialogue with Iran, do you think other Arab countries should do the same, could this help defuse tensions in the region?

King: Channels of communication should not be closed to anyone. We believe constructive dialogue is the way to find common ground from which to reach solutions to our problems. Arab states have communication channels with Iran which we hope will be in the interest of the region and its stability. We as Arabs can build strong ties with our neighbouring country, Iran, because what ties the Arab and Iranian nations is much more than what divides them. We seek mutual relations based on respect and understanding, not hegemony and interference.

AFP: Your Majesty, you spoke of Jordan wanting to develop nuclear power for peaceful means. [Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohammad Al] Baradei is coming to Amman. What do you hope to accomplish?

King: Jordan has for years sought alternative energy sources that will alleviate the increasing burden of importing energy amid rising fuel prices. In order to address these challenges, we in Jordan feel, as do other countries, the need to secure the transfer and establishment of nuclear energy technology as an alternative to importing oil for generating electricity and water desalination. This will help us fulfil our energy needs. Our pursuit of nuclear energy conforms to international legality concerning the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and requires direct coordination with concerned international regulatory agencies. We will raise the issue with Baradei during his visit to Jordan next week.

AFP: [Palestinian Prime Minister] Ismael Haniyeh accompanied President [Mahmoud] Abbas when he called on you at the summit. How would you describe Jordan’s relations with Hamas?

King: We support the choice of the Palestinian people and will continue to support the Palestinian National Authority’s efforts to preserve the unity of the Palestinian people, end the occupation and establish the independent Palestinian state. Let me stress here that Jordan has always dealt with institutions and governments, rather than factions and political powers. When Fateh was in power, we did not deal with it as a movement; we worked with institutions that represented everyone. What matters in the end is that the Palestinian leadership adopts a programme that seeks to establish a Palestinian state based on the Arab Peace Initiative, the peace process parameters and international legitimacy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Posted in Arabs, Iraq, Jordan, King Abdullah II, Middle East, peace. Comments Off on Transcript of Interview, Jordan’s King Abdullah 4-10-07