JIM LEHRER: Your Majesty, welcome. What do you think of the Israeli decision to launch military strikes in the Gaza Strip?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, I'm concerned that a new round of military activity against the Palestinians would really set us back, especially where we have to remember that there is a meeting in Cairo, as we speak, being pushed forward by Crown Prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia, hosted by President Mubarak of Egypt, with a series of Arab countries, including, we hope, the Syrians to be able to articulate even more the Arab position of the Arab Summit in Beirut; i.e., extending the olive branch to Israel and meeting 100 percent of what the Israelis have always wanted.
So while there is a meeting of peace and future hope in Cairo, to have Israeli tanks going into the Gaza I think would be very detrimental.
JIM LEHRER: Of course, this is in retaliation for the latest suicide bombing. If not military action in the Gaza, what should Israel do?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, I believe that we're all exerting tremendous pressure for Arafat to do more. I think that there has been a tremendous negative reaction towards the suicide bombing that happened several days ago simply because it's been so counterproductive to moving people forward. I just hope that Prime Minister Sharon can use as much patience and restraint as possible.
As you said, retaliation, that's the unfortunate word that we have had to be living with in the past several weeks, is retaliation from Israel, retaliation from the Palestinians, and we really have to move beyond that.
JIM LEHRER: What would you say to him-- that, if the Arab world, if the Palestinians cannot stop the bombings, I, as the prime minister of Israel, owe it to my people to do something.
KING ABDULLAH: I understand, and again I can't pass judgment on what the Israelis are going to do, but I just hope that it is as limited as possible, keeping in mind the bigger question at the moment, which is trying to get people back to the peace table.
I understand that there is hurt, as there has been on both sides, that the Israelis feel that they need to react for this heinous crime of the bomb that went off in Israel several days ago, but to what extent do the Israeli incursions, whatever they are, destabilize the bigger picture, which is trying to get people back to the table.
JIM LEHRER: Now you say the suicide bombings, particularly the last one, have been counterproductive--
KING ABDULLAH: Well, they always have --
JIM LEHRER: Isn't it always counterproductive?
KING ABDULLAH: Always counterproductive, from my point of view, and I think the majority of us believe that they are counterproductive. But, again, I think most Arabs, seeing Prime Minister Sharon, sitting with the President of the United States, the United States trying to find a way forward at a very important meeting, and a bomb goes off while they're sitting together, I think there was a-- all of us put our hands to our heads and shook our heads to say that this is crazy.
JIM LEHRER: What is it going to take to stop those bombings?
KING ABDULLAH: At the end of the day, if you want to move away from violence, peace is the only option, getting people together. There is so much mistrust at the moment that there's a feeling that the confidence has broken down in between the people, the Israelis and the Palestinians, that does the international community, do our leaders really want to be able to push us out? In other words, we need to be able to reach out to Israelis and Palestinians and say that there's something tangible and something that's tangible soon.
I know that there's discussions of interim agreements and open-ended procedures on how to get the Israelis and Palestinians together, and I think that has been really the destructive element of getting the peace camp moving forward, because there is no real tangible hope. And I hope that the Americans will be able to articulate a series of steps, a vision in the next several weeks that actually answers the Israeli equation; in other words, peace and security supplied by the Arab countries and a hope of a Palestinian state to the Palestinians, but it has to be articulated soon within a reasonable timeline. Otherwise why risk sticking your neck out for peace?
JIM LEHRER: And so you think the step-by-step approach isn't going to work any more?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, you're going to have, obviously, on the ground a step-by-step approach to dealing with, whether it's the economic problems or those of security or the political one, but what I am saying is that you have to identify the political end game as quickly as possible.
In other words, yes, there will be a Palestinian state within a reasonable time frame so that human beings can have something to hold onto, but at the same time, Israelis, and this is being addressed by the Arabs as we speak, will have all of their security concerns met, as well as their future integration into the Middle East.
And so I think those have to be articulated so that the Israelis know they will have a future, and the Palestinians will have a future within a reasonable time frame.
JIM LEHRER: Now what you have just outlined, everybody, in general, more or less agrees to it; is that not correct?
KING ABDULLAH: No, unfortunately that's not the case. There are those in Israel, and I've even heard that view in Washington, that let's keep it as a slow step-by-step process, without identifying the end game, interim agreements that keep everything open-ended, the future of the Israelis and the future of the Palestinians.
And there's even the views in Washington of let's just solve the economic suffering of the Palestinians, but how are you going to get people to get beyond that? How are Israelis going to feel that they have a vested interest to risk for peace? If the Palestinians are not going to have a future, why would the Palestinians risk to move forward if there is no vision in sight?
So I think you have to articulate a future for the Israelis, a future for the Palestinians and move the process along.
JIM LEHRER: When you talked to President Bush the other day, did you tell him what you just said?
KING ABDULLAH: I did, as I did with the secretary of state. I think that the president fully understands where we're coming from. I don't want to be in a position right at this moment to put words in people's mouths, but I did articulate that there is a need for sequential steps to be identified as quickly as possible. Hopefully, from my point of view, that there would be at least an initial low-level conference in the early summer that would address the vision for economic security and political answers as quickly as possible.
JIM LEHRER: A lot of the American commentators have been saying the last several days that there's some confusion about where the U.S. administration is on this; whether they favor what you're saying, which is an overview somehow defined and some steps to get there or just step-by-step. And you've talked to everybody -- you've talked to the president, you've talked to the vice president, you've talked to the secretary of state, you've talked to the national security adviser. Haven't you also talked to the secretary of defense?
KING ABDULLAH: The secretary of defense and to all of our colleagues on Capitol Hill--
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
KING ABDULLAH: That this is the way to move forward, and--
JIM LEHRER: What is your reading of the American position, as we sit here now?
KING ABDULLAH: Again, there is a feeling that there is two points of view. I have a feeling, I hope, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the view that we've put forward, that is the view of the secretary of state and others in Washington, is the one that is going to take the momentum, and I believe--
JIM LEHRER: His view is closer to yours.
KING ABDULLAH: The secretary of state's view is much-- I would say, identical, and I was as articulate as I hope I could have been with the president, and he listened to me favorably. And, again, I think at the end of the day, that the administration has to decide which way it's going to go. I want to be optimistic that-- what I'd like to see, the common-sense approach that we have put forward, is the one that is going to be the one that's going to win the day.
JIM LEHRER: Meanwhile, you go from here to discuss this with your fellow Arab leaders. What message are you going to give them about the U.S. position, what the U.S. is prepared to do, what the U.S. should be counted upon for doing, et cetera?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, I think that my first message to my brethren in the Middle East is that the president is obviously very committed to finding a solution, that he is articulating a vision, with the secretary of state. Therefore, we, as Arabs, have to do our share; in other words, beat down the skeptics, especially those in the Israeli public.
Therefore, if the Palestinians are going to have room to maneuver with the Israelis and whether the Americans will have the ability to move forward, we, as Arabs, have to really articulate to the Israeli people that we are prepared to meet their demands, but we do expect from the Israelis to meet us halfway at the same time.
JIM LEHRER: As you know, President Bush has a rather low opinion of Yasser Arafat. What's your opinion of Yasser Arafat?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, I think that he is now in a position where he really has to commit his full resources, not only to take apart the terror mechanism because, as I said, it's not getting him anywhere. It has been completely detrimental to the Palestinians; i.e., the suicide bombing, their cause, and that really he, he has to deliver, and I think he's beginning to realize that, and I think the message from not only myself, but other Arab leaders and those in the Palestinian constituency is that, Arafat, this is, that you have to step up to the plate, and if you don't deliver this time, then there's a serious chance that the Palestinians will lose a chance at their future.
JIM LEHRER: Is that message being delivered to the Palestinian people as well, that this is a moment of truth for them, as well as for Arafat?
KING ABDULLAH: I think that the message is being delivered to them by different circles, but I would also put it to you that I think the Palestinians are delivering that message to their leadership, that this is a golden opportunity, and that if they don't get it right this time, more Palestinians are going to have to suffer and, in turn, more Israelis and more Arabs.
JIM LEHRER: Is there any reason, you can either tell me the reason or not, but is there-- have you been given any reason, while you've been here in the United States, to be the least bit hopeful that this thing is going to get resolved sooner, rather than later, and on whatever course in a way that there is going to be peace over there?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, all of us are pushing that it has to be solved sooner because if we start talking in a language of later, it's not going to happen. And so I am optimistic that, at least at the administration level, and with the president, he understands the human dimension that not only are Palestinians and Israelis suffering, the whole region is suffering. And as the region suffers and has the potential to slip into the abyss, whether we like it or not, we drag America with us.
And so I think that there is a renewed vigor with the president and the State Department to get something sorted out this summer.
JIM LEHRER: Have you considered, because you do have relations with, with Israel, have you considered going to see Prime Minister Sharon and talking to him about this?
KING ABDULLAH: I will see anybody anywhere in the world if those visits will achieve peace and prosperity in the Middle East. And I think that we have to, as I said, articulate a strong Arab position, offering what Israel needs, but at the same time, I hope that we start getting the right messages from Israel, dealing with the Palestinian question, which in turn opens the door for Arabs and Israelis to solve their differences.
JIM LEHRER: I asked you about Arafat, what's your reading of Ariel Sharon right now?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, Sharon was here. His visit was, unfortunately, cut, cut short because of an awful incident with suicide bombing. And when I saw you several days before, I said that I had hoped that Sharon's message to President Bush was as far-reaching as what the Arabs are trying to do at the moment, reaching out to the Israeli public. In other words, that it is not interim, that it is a vision for the Palestinians, which in turn gives a vision of hope to the Israelis.
JIM LEHRER: So, in other words, the Sharon approach, if he has not changed it, which is an interim step here, an interim step there, you don't think is going to cut it.
KING ABDULLAH: I don't think it's going to cut it, and I think, at the end of the day, it's Israelis and Palestinians who suffer, and if there's any message I think we need to, whether it's the Arab position or hopeful position for the Israelis, we need to reach out to the peoples. I put it to you that there is a slogan that is being built up in the peace camps, whether you're Israeli, Arab, Palestinian or here in the United States saying, "Enough is enough." And I think that's a good slogan to remind the politicians that the people on both sides have had enough and that they need to have something tangible to hold onto.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see your role in this? You're-- clearly, this is of vital concern to you. It's clear to everyone. What can you personally do? What do you plan to do that you hadn't plan to do otherwise to resolve what's going on?
KING ABDULLAH: It's of vital concern to Jordan, as it is to any human being who is living in the area because we want to get on with our lives. That is our selfish, vested interest at the end of the day.
What can we do in Jordan? Be a voice of reason and common sense. This is something that I think we inherited from the late His Majesty King Hussein, to articulate because we have a relationship with the Israelis, because we have a relationship with the Palestinians. We're maybe in a unique position that we know what both sides can give and what both sides can achieve.
So our job has always been to smooth the edges, so to speak, and be able to push either side just that little bit further, where we know that they can actually give and articulate, also, the extent of what the Israelis can-- Palestinians can do in front of an American audience; i.e., at this stage, the American administration, but more importantly I think now reaching out to the American people.
This crisis has taken eight presidents into the fray and will continue to bring American administrations, we will continue to suck them into the problems of the Middle East unless it's solved. So it's not only Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs suffering, I put it to you, especially in the aftermath of the 11th of September, America has a lot to lose in this, and you have to come in, in a fair … nonbiased approach to be able to solve the problems.
JIM LEHRER: Your Majesty, thank you very much.
KING ABDULLAH: Thank you very much.