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Abdullah:  NATO must strengthen Iraq role

In an NBC exclusive, Jordan's King Abdullah bin talks with Tom Brokaw about the possible role of NATO in Iraq and why anti-American sentiments are growing stronger and more violent in the Middle East.

Tom Brokaw: Your Majesty, do you think that the new plan for Iraq can work without additional military forces, especially NATO forces, to secure the borders?

King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein of Jordan:I think, again, this is a decision for the new Iraqi government. But I would imagine that a stronger role from NATO is something that is needed. The borders are an issue with people coming across at the moment.

Brokaw: But NATO is so resistant. They just don't want to get involved.

King Abdullah: Well, if it's not NATO under the United Nations umbrella, but we do need to get people on the ground. The instability I think will continue to — to move in — in a negative direction leading up to the handover. I think there will be less attacks on coalitions right afterwards but what I'm concerned about after the June hand over will be more… violence in the initial phases.

Brokaw: Do you think that there could be an all out civil war in Iraq after June 30th?

King Abdullah: No, and we hope not. But I think that people, there will be more — more conflict between the Shiites and the Kurds unfortunately until things settle down.

Brokaw: How do you get that resolved, especially with one part of the Constitution guaranteeing minority rights?

King Abdullah: Well, I'm hoping that, as the leadership settles, as Iraqi settles and feel that they have a more of a role in their future, that the silent majority will start to make themselves be heard and take responsibility for the future of their country. But it's going to be a very difficult year for Iraqis.

Brokaw: In this country there's always the impression that democracies happen over night and that they're all one big happy family. But what are the chances in Iraq of having one big happy family a year and a half from now with real elections and representative democracy?

King Abdullah: Well, that's what we obviously all hope for. And that's what the international community is working towards. But democracy takes time. Each country has its own issues, its own culture and has its own pace. We do hope that the elections will be held by 2005. I think that the window is short. We'd like it to be successful. And I think all of us are keeping our fingers crossed and holding our breath.

Brokaw: Long term aren't the chances much greater that Iraq will be divided up into three parts — the Shiite, the Sunni and the Kurds and there will be some kind of a federation?

King Abdullah: I don't see that working because, as you move towards that notion, then what you probably will end is propelling Iraqi society towards a civil war which is something that we want to avoid. Not only creating major problems for Iran and Turkey because of some of the minority groups.  So I can't see that happening at the moment.

Brokaw: You're a long time friend of this country. Can you remember a time when the United States was held in lower esteem throughout the Arab world than right now?

King Abdullah: This is of tremendous concern to all the friends of the United States. The frustration of anger that you feel in the Middle East and elsewhere has never been so negative towards the United States. And it concerns me.

The change that I felt over the past year or two is not the old argument that we're against American policy but not against Americans. For the first time there's frustration towards Americans themselves. And as somebody who's studied here and has many friends in this country, it really is sort of — it hurts me to see this feeling. And unfortunately I don't think the majority of Americans realize this changing of atmosphere that is happening throughout the world.

Brokaw: When you share that feeling with your friends in the White House, and I know you talked with and met with Condoleezza Rice among others, what's their reaction?

King Abdullah: Well, I — I think they're looking at dealing with the issues on the ground. But I think that they have to realize that their policies are having an effect on the way people look towards the United States. And as I said it's not just the region. I mean, I hear this in Europe and I hear this in Asia.

Brokaw: But do they understand it in the White House?

King Abdullah: I think they do understand it. But I think, maybe they're — that, in a way you can be too — too much into the trenches with dealing with Iraq or the Israeli/Palestinian situation, to be able to do something that would change that. I mean, obviously once you solve Iraq and Iraq is back as part of the international community and the core issue of the Middle East is really a Palestinian one, then things will be back to normal.

But the images that we see on television, unfortunately, in our part of the world — we have Israeli tanks with Palestinian and American tanks with Iraqis — it's making it more and more difficult for the friends of the United States to argue that America and the policies of America are for the best… of our part of the world.

Brokaw: And all the more intensified by the images coming out of Abu Ghraib prison?

King Abdullah: Obviously that had a negative impact. But I think it — people in the United States were just as disturbed as — as people in our part of the world or elsewhere.

Brokaw: Can the United States ever get back to a favorable position as long as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict continues at the level that it is now?

King Abdullah: No. And none of us have any hope for the — a true future in the Middle East or the rest of the world for that matter if we don't solve this critical core issue of the Middle East. I don't think people understand how emotional the Israeli/Palestinian issue is in our region. We talk about reform we talk about a future for Iraq, with talk about East meets West. If we don't solve this major problem we will never have the peace and stability that we all desire. And we're all affected by this. The United States, Jordan, nobody is safe from this problem. And if it continues to linger, then we're all threatened by it. If we don't solve this problem then the future is not gonna be a bright one for any of us.

Brokaw: But isn't a lot of the burden also on the Palestinians, particularly on Yasser Arafat and then, just this week again, Hamas has said, "We'll send more suicide bombers across the border?"

King Abdullah: I mean, I believe the burden is on both sides to be able to move forward. And the Israeli government to give more support to the Palestinian government, to be able to strengthen their institutions and also Palestinian society — political society — to sort out their differences and realize that maybe the competition between them is — is costing them the future of their state.

Brokaw: Why isn't there more condemnation of the use of young Arabs, Palestinians particularly, as suicide bombers by you, by President Mubarak of Egypt, by the Saudis, by the other Arab leaders?

King Abdullah: Well, I think that you find that there is, inside of Middle Eastern society. It's talked now for the first time in great detail inside the West Bank and, what I call the silent majority, are now actively talking that suicide bombers are not helping their cause. Jordan was instrumental in adding to the new peace declaration and to an addition that condemns, by every Arab country, terrorism and suicide bombings.

We are building up a momentum of being able to do that. The modern countries have been always outspoken about terrorism and terrorist bombing — suicide bombings. But now that sort of that — that reaction is throughout the Middle East and in societies that is being discussed for the first time.

Brokaw: Does the Israeli-Palestinian conflict need to be moved to a much higher level? It's getting episodic attention from the United States and from the West.  Does it require some kind of grand summit?

King Abdullah: The quartet at the moment are working on moving the process along. Obviously, Sharon's… has to be fully articulated his revised plan. Once we have a better understanding and hoping that that is part and parcel of the road map, then the international community can move the process forward. We in Jordan and the Egyptians have been asked to help train the new Palestinian security forces, for example.

As we move the security situation into a positive note, then we can tackle the road map and get it back up and started again. But again, the more time we lose the more it hurts all of us.

Brokaw: And can it be resolved with the Israeli settlements staying in place?

King Abdullah: Well, I mean, a lot of these issues are for final status. But, we hope that, if the… plan is successful as part — being part of the road map, then obviously we'd like to see the same thing happen in the West Bank.

Brokaw: How concerned are you that Iraq will become a theocracy run by the Shiite with a strong sponsorship from Iran?

King Abdullah: That is a possibility. And that is a threat. Again, as we went back to the earlier question about a federation, I think that is a concern for all of us. What we want to do is give this new government a chance to be able to stand on its own two feet without external interference from neighboring countries. And it's going to be a day by day thing.

Brokaw: Part of the reason for the United States going to war against Iraq, according to the President, was to diminish the threat of terrorism. Do you think that there is more or less terrorism now?

King Abdullah: Well, if you want to deal with terrorism you have to deal with the core issue in the Middle East which is the Israeli/Palestinian one. That is the main recruiter for terrorism. That is the main sore that we all suffer with in the Middle East.

The military part of hunting down and killing terrorists, that's the easy part. It's going to the core roots. Why do we have terrorists? Why do we have terrorism? And the answer for our part of the world is the Israeli/Palestinian issue. Solve that and the overwhelming majority of the problem is over.

Brokaw: In this country there is widespread belief that the principle leader of the insurgence in Iraq is a Jordanian by the name of Zarqawi who is ruthless and cunning and extremely effective in carrying out the kind of warfare that he has chosen. Is there now way that Jordanian intelligence can help the United States track him down?

King Abdullah: (Laughs) I think the international intelligence organizations have been working very hard in tracking him and all his colleagues down. You get leads and then you lose some. But slowly the net is closing in on these people. It's not just Zarqawi, it's, the whole organization. But believe me everybody is working 110 percent at it.

Brokaw: What has been the effect of all of this on your country? Jordan is caught in the pincers between the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and you're on the border with Iraq?

King Abdullah: Well, we've — we've actually come through this extremely well. The Jordanian economy sprang back very quickly after the Iraq war. There's stability, there's an understanding in — in our country that, you know, we have to look after ourselves. Looking at all points of the compass we see difficulties with all of our neighbors. And so there's a — there's a sense of maturing in our country.

But having said that, there's no direct effect to Jordan but the instability east or west of us make reforms and make what we're trying to do as progressing Jordan forward — that much more difficult. And that is why… Iraq the Israeli/Palestinian issue — you get 110-percent from Jordan because that success is in the future our success also.

Brokaw: Your Majesty, as you know, Americans are now being targeted in Saudi Arabia. Anti-American feelings in the Middle East are at fever pitch. There's violence everyday between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Can you understand why Americans are gonna say to themselves, "Well, I was thinking about planning a tourist trip to the Middle East, maybe even to Jordan. But I don't think I'm gonna go?"

King Abdullah: Well, that's — that's the sadness.  If something was to happen in a horrible crime as it happened in Spain several months ago, doesn't mean you can't go to France. And this is one of the problems that we've always [had] when it comes to tourism. Jordan is a safe place.

But Saudi Arabia, the government, is dedicated to fighting these extremists. I think it's the responsibility of all of us in the international community to stand by the Saudis and the crown prince in their efforts to combat the extremist threat in Saudi Arabia and make sure that they can — they can win this.

Brokaw: In the years that I've been a journalist, I cannot remember a time when the differences between the Islamic culture and the Western ideal — Western civilization — were in such a poisonous state. And it's hard for me to see who there can be any easy or short term resolution to that.

King Abdullah: But that's when it becomes poisonous.  It is the extremists on either side that want to make it poisonous — in all societies. The overwhelming majority have the values that are commonly shared with each other. This is not a conflict between East and West. It is elements — extremist elements — on either side that want to create fear, suspicion, hatred.

And it — it's up to us, the overwhelming majority, not to let them get away with it. I mean, I don't agree that there is a problem between East and West. And we need to stand up and say that.

Brokaw: In five years what will we see in Iraq?

King Abdullah: Hopefully we will see a stable, strong Iraqi government and an Iraq that is part and parcel of the international community, a positive influence for our region. Iraq is the cradle of civilization as far as I'm concerned historically. It always has been. Iraq has tremendous resources. It has a very educated population.

The capability of Iraq being part of the international community would be a tremendous plus for the Middle East. Five years from now if we all work to support the Iraqis it can be done.

Brokaw: And will it have a radiant effect on your part of the world, on Jordan?

King Abdullah: On all of us. It, again, I mean, Iraq's capabilities have been historically so, so significant to — to Middle Eastern history. If they can come together and have the future we all wish for them to have, it would be such a position influence to all of us in the area. Definite.

Brokaw: Your Majesty, thank you very much.

King Abdullah: Thank you, sir.