King Abdullah told David Gregory that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the core problem of the region and solving it would help the U.S. in dealing with Iran and combatting the appeal of radical Islamic groups like Al-Qaida.
"In the next 18 months, if we don't move the process forward, and bring people to the negotiation table, there will be another conflict between Israel and another protagonist," he said in the interview
Here is the complete transcript of the interview
DAVID GREGORY, HOST with KING ABDULLAH II OF JORDAN
GREGORY: We’re back. King Abdullah of Jordan spent the last week here in Washington with a full agenda: meeting with the president, the secretary of state, congressional leaders and a full military arrival ceremony at the Pentagon. Before returning to Jordan on Friday, he stopped here at “Meet the Press” for an exclusive interview.
Your Majesty, welcome back to “Meet the Press.”
ABDULLAH: Thank you very much.
GREGORY: President Obama is now the third U.S. president that you have worked with. You spent time with him this week and even during the campaign. Tell me your impressions here as he comes upon 100 days in office?
ABDULLAH: Well, I -- from, I think, day one that I -- I met him, a very impressive man -- a lot of depth; a lot of, I think, instinctive understanding of the challenges that the world faces.
And obviously, I’m here in Washington to talk about relaunching negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and Israelis and Arabs, and we had a meeting of the minds, very fruitful discussions. And I think he has a clear understanding of -- of what the challenges are.
GREGORY: How do you compare him to the president you worked the most with, and that’s President Bush? ABDULLAH: Well, I think, again, President Bush had the instinctive understanding that we have to solve the core issue of the Middle East, which is the Israeli-Palestinian ones. We’re here relaunching an initiative that allows Arabs to reach out to Israel, if we can move on the two-state solution, which is critical for stability and peace for our region.
GREGORY: But is it fair to say that, at the end of President Bush’s term in office, you grew more impatient with him and his team and his approach?
ABDULLAH: I think he was dedicated to moving the process forward. I think I was getting frustrated with the team that didn’t have a sense of urgency. But a lot has changed in the world -- the economic crisis for one, recently -- that if we don’t, sort of, get a win somewhere, 2009, 2010 is going to be very difficult.
GREGORY: Speaking about President Bush, last December he spoke about the frustration along the path of his presidency, but also the state of the Middle East as he saw it. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Despite these frustrations and disappointments, the Middle East in 2008 is a freer, more hopeful and more promising place than it was in 2001.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Do you agree with that?
ABDULLAH: Yes, but nowhere near what we need as the end game. I mean, it’s all relative at the end of the day. Until you solve the problem, you’re going to get an up and down on how free or stable it is. But we still haven’t solved the core issue.
So you can’t say that -- that the -- the future for the Middle East is any brighter. Unless we solve the core issue of the Israeli- Palestinian, Israeli-Arab challenges, then we will always be an area of instability that costs all of us.
GREGORY: But it’s interesting that you raise that point as that being the core problem. You ask most Americans and certainly the government, the core problem out of the Middle East right now is terrorism, is Al Qaida. And President Obama spoke about that very issue and seemed to be speaking to voices like yours when he was recently in France. Listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Al Qaida is still bent on carrying out terrorist activity. It is -- you know, don’t fool yourselves. Because some people say, “Well, you know, if we changed our policies with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or if we were more respectful toward the Muslim world, suddenly these organizations would stop threatening us.” That’s just not the case. (END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: He seems to be contradicting you a bit.
ABDULLAH: Not at all. What -- what he’s trying to say and -- and what I’m trying to say is the challenge that we have in front of American public is connecting the dots.
Any crisis that you want to talk about, whether it’s Al Qaida, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, all comes back to the sore -- the emotional issue that is Palestine and Jerusalem. Any conflict that you pick in the Middle East today, “all roads lead back to Jerusalem” is probably be a better way of -- of explaining it.
So, until you deal with the Palestinian issue, it is more difficult to deal with Al Qaida, whether it’s Pakistan -- all these other problems that you’re facing.
GREGORY: But -- but isn’t -- doesn’t that suggest, and he seems to be suggesting that that’s not the case, that if you just solve this problem, that somehow Al Qaida goes away, isn’t that fantasy?
ABDULLAH: Well, but what -- what is Al Qaida’s platform is -- is the plight of the Palestinians in Jerusalem under occupation.
GREGORY: That’s what they say. Is that what they really believe?
ABDULLAH: Well, I mean, you’re always going to have extremist elements that are going to be there to -- to find a -- a platform for recruiting. But you can’t really take them that seriously when the core issue, the major grievance in the Arab and Muslim world is solved.
And so, in Arab and Muslim minds, the most emotional aspect is the Palestinian cause and that of Jerusalem. And from there leads all the other problems.
GREGORY: As you know, the president is expected to speak to the world, to the Muslim world, to the Arab world from an Arab capital some time during the first 100 days. It may slip and go beyond the first 100 days.
What do you think his message should be?
ABDULLAH: Well, his message has been consistent in that he is showing that America has an outreach to the Muslim and Arab world. We in -- in Jordan initiated the Amman Message, which is an outreach of -- well, actually inter-Islam to begin with, but also to Christians, Muslims and other -- Jews and other faiths in the world.
But I think it’s never done at the level -- it never has been done at the level of the president of the United States. You have the most powerful, most capable country in the world, and the message of outreach from Obama has resonated extremely well in the Arab world.
But again, that’s only delaying the -- the confrontation or the conflict, unless we solve the core issue.
And I -- every time you come up and show me an example of a -- of a problem, I’m going to point you back toward the Palestinians and Jerusalem.
GREGORY: What’s the image of the United States in the Middle East today?
ABDULLAH: I -- I -- I want to say that I have been following, by chance, President Obama around the world. I was in England a -- a day or two behind him; I was in the Czech Republic. I’ve just come from Japan on the way here to Washington. Wherever you go, and all the leaders that I’ve spoken to in the Middle East, this president provides hope.
Now, there was tremendous sympathy internationally for the United States and anger after 9/11, but today there’s a collective hope that there’s a new America. And a new America means new values for -- for the world. What everybody believed America to stand for is what I think Obama encompasses. But how long is that goodwill going to last? And that’s some of the challenges that you have.
GREGORY: Let me turn to an issue that has really gripped this country this week, and that is the issue of how the United States government and its interrogators treated September 11th prisoners after those attacks. You were sitting next to President Obama this week when this question came up about the release of those memos about how to treat prisoners, the -- and the torture issue, and this is what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We rely on some very courageous people not just in our military, but also in the Central Intelligence Agency, to help protect the American people. Having said that, the -- the OLC memos that were released reflected, in my view, us losing our moral bearings. That’s why I’ve discontinued those enhanced interrogation programs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Do you think the United States lost its moral bearings?
ABDULLAH: I -- I think that the view of America was negatively affected by -- by this issue. This -- look, I mean, the questions that have been asked of the president, me, as a non-American, it’s, in a way, none of my business. But all I will say is that, when you want to go down that path, that you’re opening, sort of, a Pandora’s box of where -- where does it end? We...
GREGORY: Do you think the United States engaged in torture?
ABDULLAH: Well, from what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard, that -- there are enough accounts to show that that is the case. But there is still a major battle out there, and I think that America -- and I think this is what President Obama is trying to do, is make sure that the legal system that America is known for is -- is transparent, to make sure that...
ABDULLAH: ... illegal activities aren’t taking place.
GREGORY: That’s an important point. You actually do believe that the United States engaged in torture?
ABDULLAH: From what I see on -- on the press, that shows that there were illegal ways of -- of dealing with detainees.
GREGORY: Does torture work?
GREGORY: Does it produce valuable intelligence?
ABDULLAH: I’m not an expert to be able to say, one way or another, if it does. Again, it’s such a gray area, when it comes to -- to a country at war. I think there -- there are smarter ways of being able to deal with getting information.
GREGORY: But yet Jordan is one of the most stalwart U.S. allies in the Middle East. There’s a lot of business that’s done between the two countries and a very tight relationship. Did Jordan engage in torture in concert with the United States?
ABDULLAH: No. And I -- I have been told by my people that I’ve asked on -- on many occasions, as these international issues came up, I think that we have been very smart in -- in being intelligent of convincing operatives that we have come across to -- to end up working for us, and you can’t do that when it comes to torture.
GREGORY: The Human Rights Watch issued a report about Jordan which contradicts that, and it said the following.
I’ll put it on the screen and allow you to react to it. “From 2001 until at least 2004, Jordan’s General Intelligence Department served as a proxy jailer for the U.S. CIA, holding prisoners that the CIA apparently wanted kept out of circulation, and later handing some of them back to the CIA. More than just warehousing these men, the GID interrogated them using methods that were even more brutal than those in which the CIA has been implicated to date.”
If the Jordanians did indeed promise the U.S. authorities that prisoners rendered there would not be tortured, it was a promise that neither the U.S. nor Jordan believed.”
ABDULLAH: I -- when that report came out, or when I was asked that question I think by one of your colleagues several years ago, I went straight back to my director of intelligence at the time and I said, “Is there any foundations to this?” And he said, categorically, no.
And I made it quite clear to him and all the colleagues that have come up the ranks since then that we don’t tolerate that. So I’d like to think that my people were telling me the truth.
GREGORY: Bottom line on this, do you think you can defeat an enemy like Al Qaida without resorting to what some people would consider torture?
ABDULLAH: Well, again, if we look at how Jordanians have been successful in the past in being able to get people to work for us back against terrorist organizations, I think using your intelligence and -- a good, sound argument have, for us, has shown a way of extreme success.
And obviously I can’t go into any -- operations in the past or ongoing operations. But I think that your intelligence would probably tell you that our method works.
GREGORY: Will the release of photographs of detained prisoners who are apparently abused, being released in the United States this week -- will that inflame the situation even more?
Will it hurt the U.S. in the Middle East and beyond?
ABDULLAH: Well, it, will -- obviously any pictures or any cases like that will have a negative attitude internationally. But again, I think President Obama has been very clear in, in his campaign and very clear from -- from the start that that is not tolerated.
America is providing a new image of what and how things should be done. And I think that the world has a belief in the president, a lot of faith in what he has to say. Obviously the pressure on the president is to deliver.
ABDULLAH: But the carte blanche that you’ve started with is actually a pretty good one and I hope one that is not used properly.
GREGORY: I want to get to a couple of important matters, both Iran and the question of Israeli-Palestinian peace. First with Iran. What are Iran’s intentions in the Middle East?
ABDULLAH: I -- I think, as in previous decades, it would like to be the policeman of the gulf. It wants to have its presence felt in the region. And having said that, I think that President Obama’s gesture of -- of a dialogue is one that Iran shouldn’t take for granted, and let’s see where dialogue will take us.
GREGORY: The new prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been very clear, and he agrees with the United States in this regard, and that is that Iran is pursuing a nuclear program, they believe.
And this is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said to Jeff Goldberg in an interview of The Atlantic magazine.
He said: “The Iranian nuclear challenge represents a hinge of history” and added that “Western civilization” will have failed if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons. “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult,” he said, “controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.”
Do you see it that way?
ABDULLAH: Well, again, let me go back to saying I think that the challenge we have here in America of connecting the dots. If you have an issue that the threat that Iran poses to Israel, which is what Netanyahu was saying, the best way of solving that problem is solving the core issue, which is the Palestinian problem and that of Jerusalem.
Because that regime goes to their people to say that the reason why we have nuclear weapons, the reason that we need to, to challenge Israel is, is because of the suffering of the Palestinians and the occupation of Jerusalem.
I go back to -- if we start solving this Israeli-Palestinian problem, it allows us to get Arabs and Muslims to the -- to the negotiating table with -- with the Israelis, then there’s not a problem anymore.
GREGORY: Do you think a nuclear program in Iran is inevitable?
ABDULLAH: There’s more of an incentive for the Iranians to continue down that path when there’s an argument that they want to use in front of their people that Palestinians are under occupation.
I would imagine that, when it comes to an economy that is suffering, like many economies are suffering around the world, a nuclear military program is extremely expensive. And if you’ve solved the core issue in the Middle East, I think a lot of leaders will be sort of checking their calculators to see whether it’s worth to go down the military nuclear road.
GREGORY: And what do you think is the best way for the United States to pursue or to persuade Iran to back away from a nuclear program?
ABDULLAH: Solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
GREGORY: That’s it?
ABDULLAH: That allows us to then solve the Israeli-Arab-Muslim problem.
ABDULLAH: There’s 57 nations in the world, a third of the United Nations, that don’t recognize Israeli today. So what we’re doing is saying 57 nations, Iran has signed this document, believe it or not, that is saying, “Look, Israel, if you solve the Palestinian problem, if you allow us to solve the problems of Jerusalem, we all want to have peace with you.”
GREGORY: Do you think Iran fears an attack from Israel, fears an attack from the United States?
ABDULLAH: I think all of us consider that -- no, I think, not from the United States. But the -- the rogue question would be what Israel would do.
And therefore, I think it is an imperative over the next month or two to start negotiations, because I think any military strike against Iraq -- Iran would be extremely counterproductive and I -- I don’t see the outcome of that. OK, you hit Iran. What happens then?
And it’s the not knowing I think creates a lot of fears with all of us around the world.
GREGORY: Let me turn to the very important issue of Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. Your father, King Hussein, was on this program 40 years ago talking about his concern that time was slipping away to solve this issue. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING HUSSEIN I OF JORDAN: The ability of all to move toward peace are being impaired. If conditions remain the way they are, I believe there is very, very grave danger of an explosion in the area or at least the loss of this chance, which we feel is the first and maybe the last one, of establishing a just and thus durable peace in the area.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Forty years later, you are preparing your own memoir, and the working title at this point is “The Last Best Chance.” A similar message to your father 40 years ago.
ABDULLAH: That’s right.
GREGORY: What do you mean by that?
ABDULLAH: Well, what -- what I’m trying to do with this book is to explain the dynamics have changed in the Middle East, and really this is our last best chance.
What my late father was saying is that, then, there was a major opportunity slipping past. And I think 40 years later how many wars, how much death and destruction, how many Israelis, Arabs and Muslims have lost their lives. Are we prepared to go another decade?
And believe you me, if we do not solve the problem today of the Israelis and Palestinians, it’s only going to be a matter of time of another conflict. And I had come here to the United States to predict the war in Lebanon several months before. I came to predict that (inaudible) was going to happen, although it took me by surprise by being two months earlier. I thought it was going to happen by the time Obama came into office.
And in the next 18 months, if we don’t move the process forward and bring people to the negotiation table, there will be another conflict between Israel and another protagonist. And how many people have to continue to lose their lives?
And so the message of the book is basically say this is our last chance, because geographically the future of a Palestinian state is under fire. And we’re now arriving at the crossroads that if we do not have a negotiator separate from Israelis and Palestinians, then there may never be a chance.
So Israel has to decide, does it want to make a relationship with 57 nations or does it want to stay Fortress Israel? And how does that hurt all of us?
GREGORY: And was your message to President Obama, “We need a complete paradigm shift here. It is time for the United States to impose a solution, time for the United States to start making some demands?”
Is that your view?
ABDULLAH: The only way that we’re going to be able to solve this problem -- you -- if it’s left to the players, the Israelis and Palestinians by themselves, we’re not going to get anywhere. It can only happen if there is an American umbrella with a determined American president that is going to get the Israelis and Palestinians to sit on the table, because both sides historically have always come an excuse why not to go the last mile.
And I believe that Obama understands how much this resonates. For the first time, I think Americans can clearly say that a two-state solution is in the vital national interests of the United States.
GREGORY: I don’t want to have you go without asking you about the fragile situation in Pakistan. The United States, this administration has said Pakistan is not doing enough to stand up to the Taliban in that northwest frontier. How concerned are you?
ABDULLAH: I think Pakistan should be of tremendous concern to -- to all of us, and these are one of a multitude of -- of discussions that we had with the president. And again, I think that, as you move toward Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation I hope in the next month or two, Arab and Muslim countries will be doing more to assist coalition forces, assist the Pakistanis in being able to deal with that threat.
But people are looking for a signal of the United States. And I know that President Obama is waiting until Prime Minister Netanyahu comes here and listens to what he has to say. But if, right after that visit, there’s not a clear understanding of how America is going to weigh in on these problems, then I think the goodwill of the United States will disappear and I think that people will start cutting their own deals.
GREGORY: And finally, a lot of attention on gift-giving, right now, as the president travels overseas. He gave DVDs and he also gave an iPod to the queen of England. You came here bearing a gift that was very interesting. You gave the president a royal weaponry set, complete with four different types of daggers and an ax.
Are you preparing the president for battle here, Your Majesty?
ABDULLAH: I think the president is prepared for battle, and basically, he knows that he has somebody standing next to him on his right and helping him through this.
GREGORY: All right, Your Majesty, good luck.
ABDULLAH: Thank you very much, sir.
GREGORY: Thank you very much for being here.
ABDULLAH: Thank you.
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