MSNBC’s Chris Matthews today interviewed King Abdullah II of Jordan on the current state of U.S.-Arab relations, including the upcoming election in Iraq and the current state of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The interview will telecast in its entirety tonight on “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” 7-8 p.m. ET on MSNBC.
Following are excerpts of today’s interview:
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, HARDBALL: What is the U.S. facing over there when you see the news accounts over there in Jordan... who is the enemy for the United States?
KING ABDULLAH II OF JORDAN: Well at the moment the Americans feel the insurgents and Baathist extremists are the enemy, but its a bit more complicated than that. There are obviously frustrations in different parts of Iraqi society and as we move closer to the elections it’s not clear to Iraqis where the future will lie. We hope that elections on January 30 will bring the country together and give it a new opportunity to move forward.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense of the worse outcome that might come to play in Iraq after the elections?
KING ABDULLAH: The worst outcome is if you don’t have a secular state, in other words if the new government is strongly represented by those that might have support from Iran. We are hoping that’s not the case. As you are aware, there’s an issue of the Sunnis, we want them to go to the elections, we want them to be part of the process. If they are not if could be more difficult
MATTHEWS: Do you fear the Shia majority might win the election and declare an Islamic republic and form a close alliance with Iran?
KING ABDULLAH: Well there are a lot of Iraqi Shia, that are Iraqi, and believe in the future of Iraq but at the same time there is Iranian influence on the Iraqi street, and that is, I think, the worse case scenario, that Iranian influence government comes to power and were to we go from here.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that would be a danger to the region, an alliance between a Shia-led Iraq and Iran?
MATTHEWS: What would it do for the U.S. role in the Middle East?
KING ABDULLAH: Well it would make it far more difficult, I mean there are some red lines that would have to be drawn, because what you are doing is creating an issue in Iraq that goes beyond the borders of Iraq. And then you have to look at the stability of the Gulf countries, ah, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab peninsula
MATTHEWS: Are you concerned that the Ayatollah Sistani is Iranian born, speaks with an Iranian accent and he seems like he came from Iran, more than just because of his birth. Are you concerned that he might have loyalty to Iran?
KING ABDULLAH: I think that is the feeling in our part of the woods that that is the case. That there is a relationship with Iran. He does have a lot of following of the streets of Iraq but his allegiance at the end of the day will be to Iran.
MATTHEWS: The goal of the Iranian people is to gain control of the holy places in Iraq, tell me about that. Explain that to the West. Why that is so important in this conflict between Shia and Sunni.
KING ABDULLAH: Well, for Shia the traditional holy places are in Iraq, obviously, when Iraq became an independent country, Shia religious authority moved to Pum in Iran. It is for this reason why Iranians to get involved in southern Iraq, because I don’t think that they want that religious authority to be transferred to another country. They are sort of the bastion of the Shia sect of Islam and to have Iraq as the place of reverence is very destabilizing for them.
MATTHEWS: But the Iranian people would like to get control of those holy places, for their own worship.
KING ABDULLAH: It is for their own strategic interests so that their religious clergy can control from southern Iraq. Najaf and Karbala as well the authority of the Pum in Iran.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Ahmad Chalabi, he is a wanted man still in Jordan, isn’t he?
KING ABDULLAH: He is wanted, yes by court of law in Jordan and in Lebanon I believe, And he is in Iraq at the moment and he has from what I know very good relationships with the Iranians, it will be interesting to see how that pans out. I know for a fact that him and Sistani have, I think are on the same ticket when it comes to elections. So it will be interesting to see how that turns out.
MATTHEWS: Watching American policy, watching in terms of the beginning of the invasion right through, how would you grade its success?
KING ABDULLAH: Well the argument is are we better off today or are we worse off? If Iraq moves in the right direction and becomes part of the international community than we are going to be better off, I think. It’s difficult to take just a little snap shot in history. Elections are a new phase of Iraqi life, if it moves in the right direction and Iraq can be pulled into the international community than we will be better off. But I think the jury is still out—it’s going to take some time.
MATTHEWS: Do you think, as we speak today, in December 2004, do you think there are more terrorists in the world today because of our invasion of Iraq?
KING ABDULLAH: I think there more terrorists in the world today because the Israeli-Palestinian situation has not been resolved. The battle against terrorism is not killing terrorists, it’s trying to solve the root cause of terror. The root cause of terror in our part of the world is the core problem, which is the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
MATTHEWS: If we don’t get a viable Palestinian state, will Israel be viable?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, it would be viable because there’ll those that would use the excuse that we need Israeli as a front line. And for how many more decades do parents and children have to suffer, let us have peace between the Palestinians and Israelis so we can have peace between the Arabs and Israelis. And let all of us get on with our lives.
MATTHEWS: We get two views of the deal that was turned down by Yasser Arafat back at the end of the Clinton administration. One was that he was being offered a piece of Swiss cheese, Israeli settlements all over the West Bank, big highways flying by little Arab communities, everybody cut off from each other, not a real country. And not enough influence, in fact sovereignty in Jerusalem. How did you see that offer? Was it a good offer or a bad offer that Yasser Arafat turned down?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, I thought it was a good offer. I mean it’s not for me obviously or anybody else in the Arab world to make that decision it was up to the Palestinians. But if we go back to—1998 we were talking about 98-99% of the West Bank and Gaza. We are talking less than 40-50% today. What will we talk about tomorrow? Therefore, again I have to point out a viable independent Palestinian state and the problem is the viability aspect of this.
MATTHEWS: And what are the parameters. What does it take to be viable?
KING ABDULLAH: Well...
MATTHEWS: Jerusalem? A piece of Jerusalem?
KING ABDULLAH: Jerusalem and a decent part of the West Bank that makes sense. If we (UNINTELLIGBLE) the West Bank and we have just little hamlets and pockets of Palestinian authority than that’s not a state. And there will never be the feeling of reassurance between the Arabs and Israelis to move...
MATTHEWS: Do you think President Bush is ready to move in the direction of pushing for that sort of resolution?
KING ABDULLAH: I truly believe so. President Bush right after elections was very adamant to point out his support for the peace process. He has, we spent more time than I expected during his conference with Tony Blair several weeks ago. With me he was very direct that he really wants to push for the process. Now hopefully after Palestinians have their elections on January 9th, there will be a Palestinian partner for peace. Our job then is to get the Palestinian Authority to engage with the Israelis and then it takes the quartet; the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia to step in and say enough is enough, you two sides have to go through the road map.
MATTHEWS: One last question about our role in Iraq. This country is about evenly divided whether we should have gone or not. Do you think the cost to us in treasure and lives has been worth it so far?
KING ABDULLAH: Well again, it goes back to the question—I mean its difficult to take that snapshot of time right now. The whole point was to remove Saddam, to bring Iraq back into the international community. If we can achieve that, Iraq is the cradle of civilization. It’s an ancient land with tremendous capabilities and a very educated and smart people. To be part of the international community, to be given to the world, Iraq would be one of the most stabilizing factors of the Middle East. But we have to achieve that.