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King Abdullah Calls for U.S. Help with Mideast Peace Plan

March 7, 2007 at 6:30 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Jordan’s King Abdullah is bringing a message to Washington: Time is running out to make peace in the Middle East. He’s delivered it to the administration in the past few days, and today to Congress. Yesterday, the king talked with Jim Lehrer.

JIM LEHRER: Your majesty, welcome.

KING ABDULLAH, Jordan: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: You believe, do you not, that the Palestinian issue remains the single most important problem in the Middle East?

KING ABDULLAH: It is the core issue. And I think the difficulty that we have when we come to the states is that a lot of people that say it’s not, that Iraq may be the other challenges.

But historically, it has been the most emotional issue throughout the Middle East, but also, you know, further afield. And if we don’t solve this, it’s much more difficult to be able to tackle issues of Lebanon, and Iraq, and Syria, or even Iran.

JIM LEHRER: Why is the Palestinian thing so much at the core of everything else?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, because it’s perceived as one of the greatest injustices of the past several decades. And, again, you’re talking about Arabs; you’re talking about Muslims. You hear this in Europe; you hear this in Asia.

And it is unfortunately the recruiting ground for terrorists. Extremists use this as a platform to get the disgruntled, to get the frustrated. And it is sort of a sore that has festered for so many decades and will continue to do so unless we find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

Israel's role in a peace plan

King Abdullah
Jordan
[Israel] has to decide whether or not it believes in a two-state solution. If it does not believe in a two-state solution, then that means they believe in a fortress Israel solution.

JIM LEHRER: Do you believe it's the main responsibility of Israel to resolve this?

KING ABDULLAH: I think it's all our responsibility to resolve this. And there will be a tremendous responsibility on the Israelis and the Palestinians, if we can launch the process correctly, for them to agree to compromise, to be able to move the process forward.

But left to their own, I don't believe that they will be able to do so. Therefore, the role of the Quartet, and particularly the role of the United States plays such an important role in getting the parties moving forward.

The problem that we have is the alternative, and I believe time is running out. The alternative is that, if we can't solve an Israeli-Palestinian problem, how can we ever solve the Israeli-Arab problem? And do we resign this area for another several decades of violence, which none of us can afford?

You are now involved in the Middle East whether you like it or not. You will continue to do so unless we start solving these issues.

JIM LEHRER: I was struck by something you said over the weekend about Israel. You said that Israel must decide between being a fortress nation or having peace and security with its neighbors, "Israel must decide." Do you think it is up to Israel to make that decision?

KING ABDULLAH: Because it has to decide whether or not it believes in a two-state solution. If it does not believe in a two-state solution, then that means they believe in a fortress Israel solution.

In other words, there will never be an ability for us Arabs to create the framework to have peace with them unless we solve the future of the Palestinians. And we're at that crossroads today.

A future of a fortress Israel will be destructive for all of us, including Israel, I believe, so we're all in the same boat. We all need to be able to reach out to each other. And we need today and not tomorrow to move the process forward. Otherwise, the Middle East will be, you know, a very dark future for it, and it affects you just as it does us.

JIM LEHRER: As you know, the Israelis say, "Wait a minute here. Wait a minute. We cannot make peace with a government that is run by people who have proclaimed Israel does not have a right to exist and, not only that, they are dedicated to the destruction of Israel." How do you respond to that?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, we understand that. Again, I'm saying there's a lot of work that needs to be done on the Israelis and the Palestinians. But as a unity government is being formed, you do have...

JIM LEHRER: Unity government in Palestine.

KING ABDULLAH: ... you do have a president that has been mandated, Mahmoud Abbas, who does believe in the Quartet principles, that does want to reach out to Israel, does want to solve the issues. And, again, I think that Palestinian society needs to look towards Hamas and decide that, you know, where are you going with our future?

And I'm saying that we have the responsibility to work with the Palestinians, but I also need to know the other side of the equation. Does Israel believe in a two-state solution?

And today, the dynamics have changed, because the Israelis and the Palestinians are not alone. You have the international Quartet. You have a group of Arab and Muslim moderate countries that are working with the Palestinians. We want to achieve this, because we are all affected by the future, if the Israelis and the Palestinians don't move it forward.

So I understand that there's a problem with the government. We all understand that. I'm saying Arabs also understand that; the Palestinians understand that. And it's being worked on.

But what we need to do is, we need two hands to clap on this one. Let us stand by the Palestinians. Let us work the issues out as part of the international community. But Israel also needs to give us answers, do they want to move forward or not?

JIM LEHRER: So you believe this can be resolved, this issue of Israeli recognition and the destruction of Israel, that can be negotiated?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, I mean, there are people on both sides that are not interested in moving the sort of a two-state solution. I believe that the polls show, at least on the Palestinian side, that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians want their leaders to negotiate on their behalf. They do want to have peace; they do want to have a future.

And when it comes closer to making those big decisions, I believe that if we get the right momentum, we need to talk to the people, the Israeli people and the Palestinian people, and let them influence those politicians on either side. They're not interested.

The global community's influence

King Abdullah
Jordan
If America does not actively engage, then the ability to be able to get both sides to sit down, to agree, to compromise, to move the process forward, the odds are stacked against us.

JIM LEHRER: But you think they cannot do it by themselves, it must be done with the help of the United States, and Europe, and other outside forces?

KING ABDULLAH: Every time Middle East peace has moved forward, it's because of direct American involvement. And today, as I said, we're all at risk. And if America does not actively engage, then the ability to be able to get both sides to sit down, to agree, to compromise, to move the process forward, the odds are stacked against us.

JIM LEHRER: Are you making this point as strongly as you can to the leaders of the United States?

KING ABDULLAH: As strongly as I can to the leaders here in the United States, to the international community, because the alternative is a cycle of violence that will affect all of us and go on for many, many years. And I don't think that we in the Middle East can afford that type of future.

I believe that this is the crossroads that we're at today. And the choice is whether the Middle East will move in the right direction or not comes down to the United States, the international community, the players in the region, the Arab and Muslim moderate countries, with the Israelis and Palestinians, moving the process in the right direction.

The war in Iraq

King Abdullah
Jordan
I believe, if we want to start turning the emphasis in the right direction, you've got to start somewhere. Removing the core issue off the table greatly deflates the frustration and anger and suspicion in our part of the world.

JIM LEHRER: To be specific, how do you see a connection between the Palestinian issue and the war in Iraq?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, you know, again, if we go back to the simplicity of the issue being a core issue, people have perceived that the Palestinians have had tremendous injustice put upon their shoulders, that this is Israel that is responsible for that, supported by the Western powers.

What has happened now with Iraq is sort of that the Great Satans, from the extremists' point of view, have come a bit closer. They're in Israel; they're in Iraq. It's easier to hit them in Iraq than it is in Israel.

There has always been a connection historically, if you look at Saddam Hussein and his link with the Palestinians, they've always fed off each other. I think one of Saddam's last words was the Arabs and Palestine.

We know and are very able to connect the dots. The difficulty that we've had here in the United States is making sure that American friends of ours can connect the dots. People say the road to peace is through Baghdad. It's not; it's through Jerusalem.

JIM LEHRER: Do you believe the United States was wrong to have taken military action against Iraq?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, we're stuck with the circumstances we have now. I'm not one that looks back and wants to cry over spilt milk. We do have the issues of Iraq; we do have the challenges. We just have to deal with them.

But, again, we have to keep the context of Iraq in the larger picture. We have issues in Israel. We have issues in Iraq. There's Lebanon, Syria and Iran. They're all interconnected.

I believe, if we want to start turning the emphasis in the right direction, you've got to start somewhere. Removing the core issue off the table greatly deflates the frustration and anger and suspicion in our part of the world.

JIM LEHRER: Well, as you know, your majesty, most Americans or many Americans would say the core issue in this country right now is the war in Iraq. And their issue is: Can it be won? Can it be resolved?

And do you feel that you and others like you have a role to play in that?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, again, you know, I'm fully sympathetic with the American public, because it's their loved ones that are in the line of fire. And so it's very difficult to come to America and sit down with Americans and say, you know, "We understand about Iraq, but that's not the core issue."

For many families and people, it is, because loved ones are in harm's way, and I don't want to change that.

But on the larger picture of the political challenges, the Israeli-Palestinian one is the core issue. When it comes to Iraq, the role that Jordan plays and other countries in the region will play, and have been playing, is to bring stability to Iraq as quickly as possible.

We've been working with the Iraqi government, with coalition forces to try and help as much as we can. And we will continue to be partners in this, yes.

Other regional influences

King Abdullah
Jordan
Iran is a regional player that has tremendous influence on sort of state clients and non-state clients, for example, Syria on one side, their ability to influence Hezbollah and Hamas.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about the Iran issue, as it relates to hostility that's growing with the United States? Is that a serious problem?

KING ABDULLAH: It is a serious problem, if it gets to armed conflict. As far as I'm personally concerned, we have enough issues on our plate to have another area of conflict, instability in the Middle East. I don't think we can handle that.

But, again, Iran is a regional player that has tremendous influence on sort of state clients and non-state clients, for example, Syria on one side, their ability to influence Hezbollah and Hamas. So they're on the table on many of these issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian one, through Hamas.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, your majesty, let me ask you this. We've talked before, and I've always asked you one way or another, or we've always discussed one way or another, your state of optimism about being able to resolve these terrible things, such as right now, the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Do you have any -- give us a feel for what...

KING ABDULLAH: My answer has always been I'm optimistic, because I think we have to be. If we're not optimistic, I believe then that means we've given up. And what bodes for the future is pretty frightening.

But, again, my concerns are, as we move into 2007 and we have the challenges of dealing with the core issue, if we can't move it in the right way, then the ability to move the Middle East back into the light will be diminished with time. And I do believe that this is one of the last, if not the last, opportunity to be able to do so.

JIM LEHRER: The last opportunity to do so?

KING ABDULLAH: I think, if we see the ongoing issues in Iraq, we see the instability and the challenges that is in Lebanon, we have the issues of Syria, we have Iraq, and the Palestinians, then let's take it one step further. We're seeing issues in Darfur. We've just seen issues in Somalia.

We have to have a win. And the strongest win is to deal with the core issues. If we don't get that, I think that the Middle East will continue to slide into the abyss and it will be more and more difficult for moderate countries, in our part of the world and outside, to be able to bring us back.

And I think that's the other part of the equation. The more we move or slide into the darkness, the less voices the moderates have, and the people who will be the popular people, the people that will be listened to, will be the radicals. And radicals will always lead us to conflict. And that's what worries me.

We had a very quick look of what might happen last summer in Lebanon. If we don't solve these problems, Lebanon is going to happen again sooner or later.

JIM LEHRER: Your majesty, thank you very much.

KING ABDULLAH: Thank you.