His Majesty King Abdullah II Interview with CHARLIE ROSE aired on PBS Saturday, 6 December 2014
CHARLIE ROSE: When you talk about ISIS, what do you see as the threat today from ISIS?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, ISIS and their like. So what we have to understand is this is a global jihadist movement. And it’s not just the threat that we’re seeing today, although the priority for many of us is dealing with Syria and Iraq. We have to remember that also we need to look at the Sinai, we need to look at Libya, the other elephant in the room – Somalia, Mali, Nigeria. We have to have sooner, I hope rather than later, a strategic, holistic approach to being able to deal with all these organisations who actually are the same. Different names, but the same beliefs.
CHARLIE ROSE: What would a holistic approach look like?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, it means that all of us reaching out to each other. We in Jordan are obviously dealing, primarily at the moment, with Syria and Iraq; but we, in partnership with some of the other Arab countries, I just came from, Egypt, two, three days ago, talking to President Sisi about the importance of reaching out to our African friends, two countries that I think, are great to be the lead in dealing with these issues in Africa. Obviously, the President of Gabon, dealing with Boko Haram on one side with the Central African states; President of Kenya, down in the south dealing with Shabaab, and moving up towards Somalia. So, this is an issue that we really have to combine our strategies and this is sort of one of the reasons why I’m here in Washington; I know we have to concentrate on Syria and Iraq. But we really have to a pan-regional approach to this.
CHARLIE ROSE: But with respect to Iraq and Syria first, the question arises about air strikes and are they sufficient to stop ISIS?
KING ABDULLAH: No, I mean, we knew the air strikes were extremely important. Can you imagine what the situation would be without air strikes? Air strikes by themselves would not defeat ISIS. The issue is now is how do you develop the ground play.
In Iraq it’s slightly different; although we have to sort of combine Syria and Iraq together. You can’t solve one situation and think of solving the other. So, you have to chew gum and walk at the same time on both these issues. But Iraq has a slightly different set of circumstances because we’re working with the Iraqi government to be able to assist them against ISIS. Supporting the Kurds is vital, getting them the proper equipment, so that they can also be able to deal with ISIS with efficiency.
And most importantly is reaching the Sunni tribes in Western Anbar that are under tremendous threat of ISIS. A lot of the tribes are being executed by ISIS and there’s a time factor there that’s extremely important. What you don’t want to see is if we delay too much that the local population being massacred feel that they have no resort but to surrender and come under ISIS.
There are some operational delays, through no fault of anybody’s, because of capacity capability of the Iraqi armies to be able to alleviate a lot of these cities that are under ISIS control. So these are issues that we have to deal with and some of the reasons why I’m here in Washington. We have to reach up to the Sunni tribes in Western Iraq sooner rather than later.
Jordan’s role in the international coalition against ISIS
CHARLIE ROSE: What’s Jordan’s role?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, we’re part of the coalition. We have been working in Syria as part of the coalition. We’ve been talking to the Iraqis how we can assist them in Western Iraq. I think that’s going to increase in the very near future. And then the role of Jordan elsewhere because we’re part of I think this regional international capability. We’re a very small country, but with many responsibilities throughout this region to combat from this global threat.
CHARLIE ROSE: There’s some question of NATO training troops and some reports that they may be trained in Jordan.
KING ABDULLAH: We’re talking to the Iraqis. They have some interest in us doing some training for them. Prime Minster Abadi came to visit us about six weeks ago; very good visit. We’ve opened all our doors to see what we could do to help the Iraqis. Obviously, looking at training Free Syrian Army against ISIS is something that is ongoing in discussions. But how do we get to the tribes, again, inside of Syria, Eastern Syria in specific that are fighting back against ISIS? Again, one of the problems is that there is a perception in Eastern Syria, and Syria in general, but also in Western Iraq that the international community only really gets excited when minorities get jeopardised. And so the Christians in the summer or the Kurds. But when it comes to Sunnis they’re being ignored; so this is why the time factor I think is very important. We have to reach out to the tribes in Western Iraq and into the east of Syria to make them feel that.
CHARLIE ROSE: Well, when you say reach out what do you mean?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, get equipment to them. Get support to them. The ways of doing that I’ve been talking about for several months. But by the end of the year action has to be taken. These are not things that I’d like to discuss in this venue. But there’s things that we’re going to have to pull the trigger on, so to speak, I think in the next several weeks.
CHARLIE ROSE: But does it include Jordanian troops?
KING ABDULLAH: I believe that at the end of the day, whether it’s in Iraq or in Syria, it has to be done by the local populations themselves. But getting them supplies and support is another issue. So, how do you physically get them support?
There is air play at the moment in strikes. Do you get supplies to them through air? Do you get them supplies through ground? And how do you protect and support that? Those are things that I think are going to be discussed. But I don’t want anybody to think that any of us are talking about the concept of boots on the ground, foreign boots on the ground, to solve the problem. At the end of the day Syrians have to solve the Syrian problem and Iraqis have to solve the Iraqi problem.
CHARLIE ROSE: But is that sufficient in Syria?
KING ABDULLAH: Syria is not going to be a quick fix. Anybody who thinks it is doesn’t know the situation. And again, what I think you have to understand, part of the complications with Syria is that there’re two issues there. There’re actually technically two wars in a way which complicates the discussion on Syria.
There’s the war of regime change in the west and the war against ISIS in the east. So again, using the American vernacular of chewing gum and walking at the same time, that’s part of the problem.
CHARLIE ROSE: And in the west Assad is the enemy, and in the east ISIS is the enemy.
KING ABDULLAH: To make it very simple, yes. So, that’s part of the complications when you’re trying to look at solving the problem. Also part of the problem, which is some of the discussions we’ve had in Congress the past few days, different people have an idea of what they think is a priority. So that adds to the complication.
CHARLIE ROSE: What do you think is priority?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, global jihadists is a problem.
CHARLIE ROSE: That’s the priority over overthrowing Assad?
KING ABDULLAH: In our view that’s the immediate threat.
CHARLIE ROSE: That’s the American view as well.
KING ABDULLAH: Well, I think because of the mass executions that we’re seeing it’s how do we get straight onto the ground to save people. But again it doesn’t mean that Bashar is a very nice individual and the regime has done wonderful things. So there’s still a lot of people out there that feel that, you know, does this mean that the regime gets off Scot-free? So that’s part of the complications. But sooner or later, I personally believe that the only solution to Syria is a political solution.
CHARLIE ROSE: I want to come to that. But at the same time it is argued here, in fact, Secretary Hagel said to me: if we inflict damage on ISIS from the air or on ground it benefits Assad. That is the reality of the battleground.
KING ABDULLAH: Yes, but don’t forget that I think it was their strategy, the Syrian regime, over the past year and a half not to hit the extremist units. They were hitting the moderate units, allowing the extremist groups to gain ground to create atrocities so that they could win the PR battle.
CHARLIE ROSE: You’ve been asked this many times, how serious a mistake will history record the failure to support several years ago the moderate forces in Syria before ISIS had the traction and the power it now has?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, the problem is I think that from the a lot of equipment was going from the very beginning to the more extremist units and not to the moderate forces. And I think this is why we’re in this mess to begin with.
CHARLIE ROSE: Could you have prevented that in some way?
KING ABDULLAH: Not Jordan.
CHARLIE ROSE: No, not you specifically. But the United States and other countries were interested in supporting the moderate forces at the time. Was it an impossible task to arm them?
KING ABDULLAH: No, it was not an impossible task. It was, I think that maybe not understanding the rules of the game of where some the units were on the ground and who was benefiting from getting the equipment and the weaponry and which units were getting stronger as a benefit of the supplier. The south was a completely different story.
CHARLIE ROSE: No, but you know the forces inside Syria. My assumption would be you understood that and my question would be was your voice listened to at the time when the question of supplying the moderate forces was on the table?
KING ABDULLAH: If you want a simple answer: no.
CHARLIE ROSE: It was not listened to.
KING ABDULLAH: Well, it was listened to but not acted on with the energy that I had hoped.
CHARLIE ROSE: And now we have a much more difficult task.
KING ABDULLAH: Correct.
CHARLIE ROSE: When you look at Syria today, how do you, for example, the Turks raised the question of Assad before they would even support Kobani under siege. Well, I mean, in fact, Assad is becoming among some of the coalition partners, the primary issue rather than the secondary issue.
KING ABDULLAH: Thus the complications of Syria.
CHARLIE ROSE: This is what I want you to speak of.
KING ABDULLAH: So look, at the end of the day, there has to be a political solution. And the way that I think, a lot of us are trying to get to is how do you get the moderate opposition − and what does the moderate opposition mean − to the table with the regime and finding a political solution? Because the way I’ve been seeing it for the past two years, the more one side supports, let’s say, the opposition, others will support the regime. And the more that continues, then basically Syria becomes a completely unstable state and it’s only the extremists that benefit from complete chaos.
So if we’re going to bring Syria back into the light, the only way we can do that is to find a political solution. Now, the problem in the middle of that at the moment is Bashar Assad, Bashar’s future. So how do we get around to doing that?
In my view, I think the Russians play a very important role because the Russians at the end of the day help play the guarantor for the future and the safety of the Alawites, which are a major entity of the Syria dynamics. And I think, if we do pursue a political track, it’s where the Russians come into this that could help us achieve a political solution.
CHARLIE ROSE: Which begs the question, are the Russians prepared to do that on behalf of their relationship with Syria?
KING ABDULLAH: In my view, you’ve got now this phenomenon that’s just created a problem for all of us in the international community. And that’s the issue of foreign fighters. So you have now foreign fighters coming from all over the world, coming to fight alongside ISIS in Syria and now, today inside of Iraq. If you look at it from the Russian point of view, Chechen extremist fighters are coming in to fight in Syria and Iraq that are going to be problematic because eventually they will go back and create problems. Not only that all the other jihadists that are looking for the next place to fight, will also go back. So they have as much of a problem, I believe, if not slightly more because of the numbers involved than, let’s say, other European countries: France, Germany, Italy and anywhere else. So I think we’re all in the same boat. I mean, you’d probably be surprised that we’re picking up Chinese from western China in Syria and in Iraq and, actually, not too far away from our borders. So this is really becoming a global problem.
An International challenge: How to face a growing ideological extremism and terrorism?
CHARLIE ROSE: And how do you deal with that global problem?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, on the other side, I personally believe that we, as Arab and Muslim countries, as I said to our parliament on the opening of our parliament two months ago, this is a Muslim problem. We need to take ownership of this. We need to stand up and say what is right and what is wrong.
This is no reflection of our religion. This is evil. And all of us have got to make that decision. We have to stand up and say, “This is the line that is drawn in the sand. And those that believe in right should stand on this side. And those that don’t have to make a decision to stand on the other.” It’s clearly a fight between good and evil. I think it’s a generational fight. As I said to, actually, to President Putin, I think this is a third world war by other means.
CHARLIE ROSE: Wait, let me just stop. You’re saying this is a third world war by other means. And that’s what you said to Putin. That’s what you’ll say to the president of the United States.
KING ABDULLAH: What I believe I think I’ve already said to the president, and I’ve said to other leaders, this is a generational fight. And I hope that generational fights, so that people don’t misunderstand me, I hope the short-term part of it is going to be the military. The medium-term is a security aspect of it.
But the long-term is going to be the ideological one. So, what I’m saying is, we as Muslims have got to look ourselves in the mirror and realise that we have this problem; make this very difficult call, and then all of us come together and clearly say that, you know, these people are renegades. These people have nothing to do with Islam.
I mean, we have this argument at the moment that they say it’s the extremist Muslims and moderate Muslims. And I don’t believe that. I’m a Muslim. Why are you calling me a moderate Muslim? I’m a Muslim. I don’t know what these people are.
CHARLIE ROSE: You don’t know what Baghdadi is?
KING ABDULLAH: These people that feel that our religion condones the execution or crucifixion of people, the beheading and the raping of women, has nothing to do with our religion or other religions. So there’s a lot of leaders around the Arab and Muslim world that have had enough; that want to come out in a voice and say, “Look, enough is enough.”
CHARLIE ROSE: But why isn’t that an easy call for Muslim leaders? Why isn’t that an easy call to say, “This doesn’t represent the religion”?
KING ABDULLAH: You’re seeing that more and more. And you’ll see more of that.
CHARLIE ROSE: What’s an example that you’ve seen from someone other than you?
KING ABDULLAH: Just give us some time. They are discussions between a lot of us that are coming together to say that we have to make a stand. And, as I said, because of the total globality of this issue that we all have to coordinate. And as I said, because we’re not dealing with this issue just in Iraq and Syria, it’s all over the world.
CHARLIE ROSE: But you have to deal with the immediacy of it in terms of Iraq and Syria.
KING ABDULLAH: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: And it’s far more serious. And they have more revenue. And they have more sort of social media. And they have more weapons at their disposal.
KING ABDULLAH: Almost instantaneously, you’ve got to look at Libya, you know? So that’s the other elephant in the room.
CHARLIE ROSE: Speak to the problem in Libya because there’s not been much focus on it.
KING ABDULLAH: Surprisingly. Surprisingly, everybody ignores Libya, which is also probably just as complicated and just as desperate. So does it take major atrocities there for the international arena to focus attention? So, I think as we’re getting the strategy and the tactics in place of Syria and Iraq, then people will start to focus on Libya.
But I hope, by the end of this year, beginning of next year, countries will be coming together to start talking about Libya. Closer of a problem to the Europeans, than it is for the United States, especially to those that are on the northern Mediterranean Sea. So, you see, the Italians, the French, and to an extent, the Spanish, taking lead on that; but this something that we have to deal with because it also affects central Africa.
CHARLIE ROSE: Are you meeting some opposition as you try to make this case, from people?
KING ABDULLAH: Not from the leaders that I’ve been talking to, not at all.
CHARLIE ROSE: They’re all.
KING ABDULLAH: How do we all come together and just get our script together.
CHARLIE ROSE: What’s your roadmap?
KING ABDULLAH: I’d like to keep the roadmap to us at this stage.
CHARLIE ROSE: But some suggest that some members of the coalition say, “Yes, ISIS is a huge problem. And yes, we have to do something about it. But they’re also Sunnis like we are. And our opposition for dominance in the region is with Iran.” You’ve heard that.
KING ABDULLAH: Well, again, you’re going to have always…
CHARLIE ROSE: And Shia versus Sunni.
KING ABDULLAH: Well, I don’t believe in the Shia versus Sunni conflict. We’re all one people, and that doesn’t help. I think it goes deeper or slightly different than that.
But if we look at this major international phenomenon, there’s a common ground that brings us all together. And I’m hoping that that’s where a lot of the leaders are thinking at this stage.
CHARLIE ROSE: You’re the leader in the Middle East who once raised the specter of the Shia Crescent.
KING ABDULLAH: Yes. And I raised it, from a political view. And again, so from the jihadist-global problem, again, from the political point of view, we need to be able to tackle it. I don’t believe that, from a religious point of view that there are any obstacles between us. And actually, it was last summer, or the summer before last, where some irresponsible members on both sides of the divide, clerics tried to create a clash inside of Islam between Shias and Sunnis. And we had a conference where we brought Sunni and Shia leaders from all over the world to come and say, “Look. Whatever is happening in Syria and Lebanon, at that point, it has got nothing to do with interreligious strife.” And actually, the most moving part was at the lunch that we held on the second day, two Imams stood up, or two Shiekhs stood up, Iraqis, one Shia, one Sunni, and said, “Look. He’s a Shia. I’m a Sunni. We’re both brothers. And whatever is happening in Syria or might happen in Iraq.”
CHARLIE ROSE: And those people don’t represent either of us.
KING ABDULLAH: Yes. It has got nothing to do with religion.
CHARLIE ROSE: So, therefore, tell me how you see the relationship, on the ground, between Iran, who considers ISIS an enemy, the United States, who considers ISIS an enemy, Jordan, who considers ISIS an enemy, and Saudi Arabia, who now considers ISIS an enemy.
KING ABDULLAH: The Gulf countries consider ISIS an enemy. So it would be interesting as you had mentioned the Iranian air strikes that you had just said earlier on in the interview. It would be interesting to see how that plays out.
CHARLIE ROSE: So how might it play out? What would you see people saying to you privately?
KING ABDULLAH: I have to get back and see what they have to say. Obviously, like all regions, there’s always going to be tensions and conflicts because of countries’ border disputes. You’re sort of implying religious problems. It’s more historical.
CHARLIE ROSE: I’m asking.
KING ABDULLAH: So I think that their tensions are based more on historical issues than they are religious ones.
CHARLIE ROSE: So the question of dominance in the region is more historical than it is religious.
KING ABDULLAH: Power plays that you find all over the world between big states and smaller states that have been there historically for many centuries.
CHARLIE ROSE: But can you imagine Iran being part of a political solution in Syria? Because they have influence also with Assad, they also need Assad because of the Syrian territory helps them in their relationship to Lebanon.
KING ABDULLAH: Their priority is Hezbollah more than it is Bashar. But I think that the guarantor when it comes to negotiations is more the Russians than the Iranians.
CHARLIE ROSE: And you sense the will is there on the part of the Russians?
KING ABDULLAH: I think the Russians, again, going back to the foreign fighters problem need, as we do, to sort of start to unravel this phenomenon. And Syria is a good place to start because of Damascus or Syria, is not that far away from the Caucasus.
And this problem of instability that ISIS, Syria, Iraq is presenting actually does go back to affect the Caucasus quite easily. And don’t forget, the foreign fighters are not just coming from Chechnya. I mean we are picking those from Uzbekistan. We’re seeing from other of the ‘Stans’ coming in.
The reasons behind recruits of individuals from around the world into ISIS and its extremist and terrorist ideology
CHARLIE ROSE: And why are they doing it? Why are they coming to learn, what there? Are they coming because they believe in the ISIS mission? Are they coming because?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, part of it is, the media play that what ISIS and their groups are doing are quite successful. Because they take cherry-picking bits of the Quran and saying that this is what the Quran stands for, which is completely and utterly untrue.
And they’ve been very successful in new media, in reaching out to youth all over the world, frustrated people, who are young people without jobs and being able to create or recruit the other part of it. Don’t forget, they are offering very good salaries.
I mean, part of the problem that we had with ISIS at the beginning, and part of the reasons why the air strikes were, I think, so needed, is the oil industry alone inside of Syria, especially on Deir Ezzour, was netting them about $1 billion a year.
So the salary for a recruit joining ISIS is about $1,000 a month, which is the equivalent to a colonel’s pay in our armed forces. So you had these different aspects of how their recruiting was working. What we’re doing to sort of fight back now is to explain to people that all these things that you’re hearing as the manifestos, from for example Baghdadi, have nothing to do with the Quran. But part of the problem was a major recruiting issue, and I know there is, I’m sure, in America, in certain sectors doesn’t go down well that the core issue in the Middle East is still the Israeli-Palestinian one. And until we solve that, that is a major recruitment for extremist groups.
CHARLIE ROSE: You told me, for example, that when the war in Gaza was taking place, recruitment by ISIS went sky high, so they use it even though it’s not connected?
KING ABDULLAH: All extremists, all these jihadist groups, use the injustice of what’s happening to the Palestinians and Jerusalem as a rally call. Now, I know there’ll be a lot of comments made after I say that’s not true. It no longer matters whether it’s true or not.
What is true is that’s what the jihadists use as recruiting element. And actually, since the air strikes have happened, I think the amount of recruits that have crossed the border into ISIS and got up to about 3,000. So when you saw young women and children in the high death count inside of Gaza, we saw an immense amount of recruiting of ISIS of young people into ISIS.
CHARLIE ROSE: When you look at the forces on one side, the United States, the coalition partners, you, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, you look at the goals of Iran. Why is this a tough fight? ISIS has money, clearly. They’re able to recruit, clearly. But this is overwhelming force that’s possible. Or where am I naïve?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, again, you’ve got to look at the complexities what allowed them to have such a success rate in the beginning. They were limited inside of Syria. The Syrian regime was purposely not targeting them. They were targeting all the moderate units, so they were allowed to grow and establish themselves.
CHARLIE ROSE: And they did that purposely because they wanted to see ISIS grow?
KING ABDULLAH: They wanted to see, well, it was other groups; and out of that came ISIS, so that they could win the PR game to get the swing vote behind them to show that, you know, there are people a lot worse than us. And they were very successful in doing that. When they entered Iraq in July, the uprising that happened in western Iraq was not because the Sunni tribes had any affinity for ISIS. It was the frustration with Baghdad for many, many years, because the Sunnis felt there was no political inclusion in the future of Iraq, something that we had discussed with not just as Jordanians, but the Americans, with Baghdad for many, many years. And it was that frustration that exploded with the entrance of ISIS into Iraq in July. With President Abadi, now Prime Minister Abadi, now he is the new prime minister, he has reached out to the Sunnis. And I think the atmospherics are sort of better. But again, there’s a time factor, if he doesn’t deliver some of these promises.
CHARLIE ROSE: The Sunni tribes…
KING ABDULLAH: The Sunni tribes, if they aren’t part of Iraq, that there isn’t a future, there could be a backlash. And so I mean, I sort of try to explain to American audiences that we have Kurdistan. In a way, we have Shia-stan. But we actually have never had the Sunni-stan. So unless we solve that part of the puzzle of Iraq then the Sunnis are always going to feel isolated and, to an extent, betrayed.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yes, but Sunnis have got to be the best people to explain that to them. I mean, you got to promise them that the Shia prime minister is going to reach out and wants to have a relationship. But the people are best able to do that because of history, I assume, the fellow Sunnis.
KING ABDULLAH: To an extent. But again, I think there’s a lot of Iraqis, whether they’re Kurds, Shia or Sunni, that believe in a united Iraq. And you’ve got to give those people the benefit of the doubt. But there are other elements in play inside of Iraq. You mentioned Iran. I mean, Iran, I don’t think, would like to see a strong vibrant Iraq for all these reasons. So there is always internal play and pressures on the Iraqi government to make sure that the Sunnis don’t get the things that they want in the way that they want. So that’s an uphill struggle. But going back to ISIS, I think that Prime Minister Abadi is committed. He has bureaucracy that he has to fight through. And we’re all giving him the benefit of the doubt. And I hope that he does deliver it. But again, the clock is ticking.
CHARLIE ROSE: I want to move beyond that. There’s no question in your mind that this battle against extremism can be won. And the definition of won is what?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, first of all, we all have to make a decision of what side of this we’re on. Nations in the Arab and Islamic world have to stand up and say, “We’re against this,” and explain to our people, “There’s a right and a wrong in this.” And people have to make a decision. No longer can we allow complacency.
9/11 was an attack on the United States by an extremist group to try and create a clash of civilizations. They wanted the west to fight Islam. And we knew that was their target. They’re actually after us. This is our war. This is a war inside of Islam. So we have to own up to it. We have to take the lead. And we have to start fighting back. And all of us have to make that decision and stand up to the plate and take our responsibilities.
CHARLIE ROSE: And if you do that extremism can be, what, manageable?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, I…
CHARLIE ROSE: …eradicated?
KING ABDULLAH: I don’t want to get into the details because a lot of us are talking to each other about how to deal with this. But what happens is, I think, when you clearly define what it is to be a Muslim and what these people are, I think it defines the argument much easier inside of Islam of how to deal with this issue. I think because I think a lot of people that are actually thinking that, “Oh, ISIS is something noble to be part of.”
CHARLIE ROSE: Especially the young.
KING ABDULLAH: Especially the young that are being lied to. You know we’ll have the right arguments. The proper arguments, I think, have not, honestly, been properly defined, but will be defined in the very near future.
CHARLIE ROSE: You’ve referred to this many times in this conversation. This seems to be a significant moment. And the dialogue’s important and crucial to come together to figure out how you’re going to combat this. And it’s both ideological. It’s both education. It’s both stopping the flow of money and a whole range of other things.
KING ABDULLAH: And it takes courage; and at the end of the day we have to be courageous to stand up and to face this head on.
CHARLIE ROSE: And what’s the risk to that being courageous?
KING ABDULLAH: What’s the risk if we don’t do it? I mean, for all of us, all of us, not just Muslims but Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, everybody else.
What worries King Abdullah II?
CHARLIE ROSE: Which raises the question: Many friends of yours who worry about Jordan and you, they worried about you at the time because of what was happening in the Arab Spring. And you were the first to say you believed in the Arab Spring and you represented the Arab Spring. And you had listed a series of reforms that you thought were important for your government and for your people. What does the King of Jordan fear, within his own country and the threat to him and his country?
KING ABDULLAH: I don’t fear much. I have the confidence in my people. I have the confidence in God. I think the question you want to probably ask is what keeps me up at night.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yes. Thank you.
KING ABDULLAH: If you’re looking the challenges of what’s going on in the region, we have this issue of fighting ISIS. We are part of an air coalition.
Just a little anecdote: my brother was commander of the air force several months ago, when I was in New York and the coalition was formed. Both him and the chief of staff went out to the air base where we had collected all our F-16 pilots. I had said, “Just check. We ask for volunteers.” And the chief of staff and my brother stepped forward and said to all the pilots, “Listen: For strikes against ISIS we’re only looking for volunteers. So anybody who wants to volunteer, please step forward.”
Every single pilot raised his hand and stepped forward. And that’s just a reflection of the Jordanian Armed Forces. And it was the same discussion that I had when you went into Afghanistan. I went to our special forces and to our soldiers, “How do you believe our commitment to fighting the extremists in Afghanistan?” And everybody was raring to go. So the Jordanian army wants to go after.
So from that point of view, I think the morale is high. The Jordanians, politically, militarily are in a very good place. But where we suffer from is poverty, unemployment. The economy is struggling, mainly because of large number of refugees.
CHARLIE ROSE: I’m going to come to that. Just one question…
KING ABDULLAH: So what keeps me up at night is the economy, poverty and unemployment and our people suffering because of the refugees.
CHARLIE ROSE: The commitment to the refugees, in one second. You saw the president of Egypt recently, Abdel [Fattah] Sisi. He felt compelled to take strong action against the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is a factor in Jordan? Do you feel compelled to take action against them?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, no, we haven’t. I mean they’re an official organisation. We had invited them to be part of the process at the beginning of Arab Spring. They were the first political organisation that I actually talked to at the start of Arab Spring. They made their demands very well known. They wanted to change the constitution. They wanted a higher Constitutional Court. They had a list of things, all of which we had done, by the way. They wanted a national dialogue committee, so that they could talk about reform. That was set up. They were asked to be part of the national dialogue. And then they refused to. Because at that point, don’t forget, Arab Spring was started by young men and women that wanted change. It was then hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, which was an organised political society.
So they’re the ones that took over from the youth that wanted change. And at that point in Egypt, if you remember, the youth were replaced by the organised Muslim Brotherhood. And a decision was made, unfortunately, by them that staying in the street was a better way of going because they thought Jordan was going to fall. Jordan, if you remember our history, we’ve been through many, many crises over many, many decades. It’s not by accident that we’re still here, and we’re still strong.
CHARLIE ROSE: If it’s not by accident, it’s because of what that you’re still here and still strong.
KING ABDULLAH: I think because of our people and because of the relationship that the country has with its leadership and because we’re all a united family. So we’ve been written off for I don’t know how many decades. I think my father, His Late Majesty, has been presented with the same sort of questions that you just raised; so I think we’re unified. We’re strong.
CHARLIE ROSE: Do you approve of what Sisi’s doing in Egypt?
KING ABDULLAH: Any person who is in that position, with the challenges that he or she would have, I would commend them. The set of challenges that he has to do to really help his country are unbelievable. And the main thing that he’s trying to do is bring back stability to Egypt. We need Egypt. Egypt is the lynchpin of the Middle East.
CHARLIE ROSE: The lynchpin of the Middle East.
KING ABDULLAH: Yes, it is. You know, they say Um El Dinya, they’re the center of the Middle East for many, many reasons, historically, culturally, religiously. And we all need Egypt. I believe that he is bringing strength to his country. He brings stability to his country.
The economy is a major challenge for him. But at the same time, he has to deal with instability in Sinai, which we we’re all trying to help him on. He is on one of the largest borders of Libya. We’re all talking about our concerns in Syria and Iraq. Imagine what his problems are, facing Libya and what he has to deal with. So all of us have to stand by the Egyptians and by him because he’s got so much on his plate. When I worry about my challenges, and I think what he has to go through, I mean.
CHARLIE ROSE: I want to turn to Israeli and Palestinian issues. But before that the refugee question. You have a million and a half refugees.
KING ABDULLAH: We have 1.5 million refugees (over 20%) of our population in the past year and a half. Almost 90% are outside of refugee camps, so a very small portion is in refugee camps. The rest are all across the country. This affected our schooling system, our healthcare. Our school systems have now regressed to going back to double shifts to be able to make up.
CHARLIE ROSE: What’s the economic measurement of this, what that has caused?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, your country has been so gracious and so magnanimous in helping us out with its aid program. So please, my appreciation to the United States. I wish the rest of the international community could be as helpful. But with this year’s budget the donor aid only covers something like 29%. So we still have a shortfall of $1.9 billion just to cover the refugees out of our budget of over $16 billion.
CHARLIE ROSE: This is a responsibility you didn’t ask for. So who should step forward? Because it is part of the reality that is happening. You have refugees. Should the United Nations be stepping forward? Should more donor nations be stepping forward?
KING ABDULLAH: The United Nations because of lack of budget have now also downgraded the ability of food supplies that they could give. So that’s another burden that we have to deal with.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is there a security element to this, beyond economic and humanitarian, in that some of these people may very well have come because they want to be part of some jihadist fight?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, there’s always that threat. Part of the problem is vetting the amount of refugees that come into the country because not all people coming in across the border are technically refugees. There are some bad apples in that. And that’s one of the daily concerns that we have. You know, we’ve been fortunate so far in making sure that we’ve vetted as many people that come across the border. But that’s not to say that we’ve missed a few. So that’s always going to be a concern.
Did the peace process efforts fail to accomplish final peace in the Middle East?
CHARLIE ROSE: Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian issues: Secretary Kerry launched an effort and believed that it was possible that he could bring some kind of agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. It is said that you were right in the middle of that, that you were there both advising, encouraging a central part of it. Why did it fail?
KING ABDULLAH: Well, it hasn’t failed yet. It’s still an ongoing issue. The door is still open. And, if you remember, there was a tri-lateral meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu, myself and Secretary Kerry about 10 days ago, which was a very successful meeting. President Sisi called in, and we had about an hour of conversation between the four of us on how to move things forward.
CHARLIE ROSE: This was Secretary Kerry, you, President Sisi and Netanyahu.
KING ABDULLAH: And Netanyahu, yes, on how to move forward and the necessity to move the Israeli-Palestinian issue forward, especially when all of us are dealing now with a much bigger problem, which is this international fight against international Jihadists. So the world has moved on. But if we don’t unravel and solve this problem between the Israelis and Palestinians, we’re really going to be fighting this problem with one arm tied behind our back. So how critical it is for the Israelis and the Palestinians to be able to move forward. Secretary Kerry has some ideas. There were things that were discussed.
CHARLIE ROSE: Well, what progress did it make? I mean clearly, Secretary Kerry was very, very passionate about trying to keep quiet what the deal was because he believed that if it was given, people would start picking at it. What was the essence of the deal?
KING ABDULLAH: I can’t, obviously. We were part of the process because when it comes to final status issues, just about every single final status issue has something to do with Jordan, whether it’s the border, whether it’s Jerusalem, whether it’s refugees. So this is why we were actually in a fortunate position of being able to help both sides overcome a lot of the obstacles. And as a result, for the first time, I think, in the dialogue of the peace process for them having, to talk to the Jordanians, meant how serious it was and how serious the process was and how close we got to what is actually a very strong final package. For several reasons, we didn’t manage to take the final step.
CHARLIE ROSE: What were the reasons?
KING ABDULLAH: Both sides had their concerns.
CHARLIE ROSE: Trust.
KING ABDULLAH: Trust is part of it. But I think that we’ll get back to, hopefully, overcoming that at the beginning of the year. There are issues that are being talked about, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed.
CHARLIE ROSE: But there’s still possibilities within the remaining term of the Obama administration.
KING ABDULLAH: And it has to be. Because what happens if there is not? And I think this is the critical factor that all sides have to understand. We’re now moving on to something much bigger, which is the global fight, this generational fight. If this thing is still cooking and not resolved, how are we ever going to succeed on this larger problem? So why is it now that all these governments around the world are either indirectly recognising the state of Palestine, or say that, in a year or two, if you don’t solve the problem, we’ll are going to recognise the state of Palestine.
Because of the foreign fighter problem that all these countries are having around the world, they’re beginning to realise that all roads do lead to Jerusalem, and that if the Israelis and Palestinians don’t solve this problem, it does have an effect with extremism and how it affects the Muslim populations in their country.
That at the end of the day, the core issue is still the Israeli-Palestinian problem and Jerusalem, even though people, certain people, don’t like a reference made to that. You know, whether it’s true or not, that argument is still being used by the extremists. And countries around the world realise that they have to solve the problem for their benefit. So it’s no longer politics because of the Middle East. It now affects the national security of countries around the world.
CHARLIE ROSE: So they have a large incentive now to push for an end to this struggle?
KING ABDULLAH: Yes. So, in other words, Israelis and Palestinians, for our sake, says countries around the world, “Solve the problem. Because it’s affecting us.”
CHARLIE ROSE: … there are arguments made that, in the end, the Israelis didn’t win the Gaza war because of the repercussions of it.
KING ABDULLAH: I say, from that point of view, you’re correct. And if you looked at all the media outlets, the international media outlets, during the summer, especially if you looked at, maybe not American, but if you looked at most of the international outlets that you think would be covering Ukraine as the head story, especially in Europe, they were not covering Ukraine.
All the headlines were Gaza. So the attention has shifted. The understanding and the concerns are the core issue today. And so that has to be an understanding by the two players that we’ve all moved on to something bigger. And if you don’t get it, we’re all going to pay the price for that.
CHARLIE ROSE: You know well and have many discussions, including the one you mentioned with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Does he get it? Does he get it that, in your judgment all the things you had laid out here that the world has changed? There’s a bigger issue. There’s a time demand. And these countries are saying, “You got to solve this.” Does he get it? Does he feel that, in your judgment?
KING ABDULLAH: I can say that the conversation, the four-way conversation between President Sisi, myself Secretary Kerry, and Prime Minister Netanyahu was it went on, I mean, look. Sisi called in. It was an hour four-way conversation. And it was a really optimistic sincere conversation and one that left me with a lot of hope. And the way that everybody was talking about the problem made me feel that they wanted to move forward.
CHARLIE ROSE: Okay, hope is a precious commodity. And you don’t see a lot of it these days. What was it that made it hopeful?
KING ABDULLAH: Understanding how it affects. And also, what I think, you know, Israelis need to understand is how if this continues to go on, because now we’ve all moved off to another, bigger problem, how this continues then to affect the Israeli-Jordanian relationship, the Egyptian-Israeli relationship. Because if this thing continues to create a turmoil, it does create tremendous pressures on Jordan and Israel and Egypt. And so I think there was a tremendous understanding that we have to move the process forward. And I think everybody left that meeting feeling optimistic and I think, geared up to take it to the next level.
CHARLIE ROSE: Have you seen any change since then?
KING ABDULLAH: No, no, no. I think, you know, I mean, the feedback we got from both Egyptians and the Israelis and the Palestinians, I mean, you know, you’re going to have different maneuverings by different groups. And there are different things that come up, whether it’s the new Israeli bill or different issues.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yeah, what do you make of the new Israeli bill by the way?
KING ABDULLAH: It definitely complicates things after we’d come out of that wonderful evening.
CHARLIE ROSE: So you came out of the meeting hopeful. And then you have this bill.
KING ABDULLAH: That makes things more complicated. But again, I’m looking to the beginning of the year; some of the things that were said at the dinner; Secretary Kerry coming back with the next phase of getting them together. So what I’ll say is I’ll give everybody the benefit of the doubt, keep my fingers crossed, and see what happens.
CHARLIE ROSE: Do you worry about a third Intifada?
KING ABDULLAH: Oh, you know, if you don’t do it, there’ll be a sixth or seventh. There will be another war in Lebanon. I mean, you can predict that there is a reason why our military field hospital is still in Gaza. And we’ve kept it there since war one. Because if you don’t solve the problem, it’s only a matter of time until there’s another one.
CHARLIE ROSE: Did you recall your ambassador to Israel?
KING ABDULLAH: We called him back for questioning. And that was after two years of going back and forth on difficulties and issues that we’d had in Jerusalem vis-à-vis Al Aqsa Compound and not being able to get proper responses of how to deal with the issues.
To make a long story short, during the Gaza war I did speak to the prime minister saying, “Look, this is really, really serious. You know, we’ve talked about this on several occasions. If it continues like this, I’m going to have to take action.”
Action, unfortunately, due to Jerusalem was taken. The prime minister called me the next day after we took that decision. But with all sincerity he said, “Listen. We need to deescalate the tension.” We created a set of procedures to make sure that things move in the right direction.
And since then, by the way, we’ve had the best Fridays of any Fridays in past 15, almost 20 years in Jerusalem. So there is a willingness and sincerity on all sides to move the process forward. There is calm on Fridays. And there is procedures being put into place. We hope that once the procedures are all finalised, then the ambassador will go back very soon.
CHARLIE ROSE: Finally, what’s the status of Jordanian-U.S. relations?
KING ABDULLAH: Could not be better. We work, as always, in harmony in dealing with all the challenges. And, as you know, Jordan is not just dealing with problems of just Jordan.
CHARLIE ROSE: But from the time that you’ve said, you know, that you didn’t feel that there was a resonance to the you were giving, do you feel like that the administration here has changed in its attitude about the relevancy and necessity of the United States to take lead and to be deeply involved?
KING ABDULLAH: That’s what I mean, I have a very strong relationship with the president. And you know, I had a long session with him in February of this year, where we discussed a lot of the issues that we’re now dealing with.
I had a chance to spend a lot of time with him at the NATO summit where we identified how to move forward on the issues, as it turned out, of the air campaign. He sent me a lot of his representatives to deal on the ground. General Allen is actually in Jordan, as we speak, if not, yesterday. How do we work with the Iraqis?
CHARLIE ROSE: Bringing your call into action.
KING ABDULLAH: No, no. He’s always been very responsive to everything I do.
Actually, when he looks at the problems of Syria and Iraq, I’m always impressed with how he looks at things from many angles. And then we sit down and figure out how to do that. How do we get other people involved in the mix, and how to move forward.
CHARLIE ROSE: No question in your judgment, he understands and is one with you in terms of laying out the threat, and why the threat exists in the world.
KING ABDULLAH: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: So you’re satisfied with the level. He understands that and is engaged by it.
KING ABDULLAH: Yes, absolutely. And any time there’s a problem, I mean, you know, he’s always, always kept the door open. So if there’s ever a difficulty, lift up the phone, give him a call, and we’ll deal with it right there. So I’m very, very comfortable with the relationship that we have his vision on how to deal with the issues.
And as a result, you’re seeing that there is a process going into place. And I will, hopefully, see him tomorrow, bring him up to speed on some of the things that we’re doing, throw some ideas back and forth, and take it to the next level.
CHARLIE ROSE: Not easy to be King.
KING ABDULLAH: Well, probably more difficult to be president.
CHARLIE ROSE: Thank you so much.
KING ABDULLAH: It was a pleasure.