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Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 11:15 GMT
King Abdullah:Talking Point special
The King of Jordan, Abdullah II, answers your questions in a special edition of Talking Point, the BBC's interactive phone-in programme.

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Bridget Kendall:

Hello and welcome to Talking Point. I'm Bridget Kendall and today we have a very special guest, King Abdullah II of Jordan, who is here to answer your e-mails and your questions.

Welcome your Majesty. Thank you very much for coming in to join us. We've had an enormous number of emails - over 900, I think.

I know that you've been here in Britain on a state visit at the invitation of Her Majesty, the Queen, obviously something that was organised a long time ago.

In the interim there has been the tragic events of September 11 and everything that's followed since. We are at war in Afghanistan and no-one seems quite to know when it will end.

So there are an enormous number of questions on many different topics - people who want to know about the prospects for Middle East peace, what this means for your country, some personal questions for you, but most of all, of course, questions about the crisis relating to terrorism and Afghanistan.

Let's go to our first caller who is Maria Martinez, who is 14 years old.

Maria Martinez, Virginia, US:
I would like to ask what your personal feelings are about the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US are and what you feel about the US's response?

King Abdullah:

Well, obviously we were devastated by what we saw. I was actually in an aircraft flying to the United States to see our friends in America and see the President later that week.

I don't think there's anybody in the world that wasn't shocked and stunned by what had happened to our friends in the US. But this is a time when you can count on friends and you have a lot of friends in my country

We had really very little understanding - we were sitting in an airplane and we got a call that an aircraft had crashed into one of the towers and you really didn't understand the scope of it.

Actually, it was my wife that managed to call me a bit later and said - look its very serious and so we went into the cockpit and actually got the BBC World Service and then we began to understand the extent of what happened on that day, and it wasn't until we saw the images as we turned around and came back to London to refuel that I managed to find a television set and look at the images of the aircrafts that we suddenly saw the extent of the horror of what was happening in the United States.

I don't think there's anybody in the world that wasn't shocked and stunned and grief-stricken by what had happened to our friends in the United States.

But this is a time when you can count on friends and you have a lot of friends in my country - I hope you consider me a friend - and in this very difficult time the friends of the United States will stand with America, side by side. Whatever the challenges are in the future, we'll take them on together.

Bridget Kendall:

Maria, does that answer your question? Do you want to ask His Majesty something else?

Maria Martinez:

Yes. That answers my question but what do you say about the response - the bombings in Afghanistan?

King Abdullah:

Well, obviously there is a military objective there that has to be seen through, and we've got to remember what the objectives are. It is not only to bring down international terrorism - which will obviously take a much longer time - but there is a specific problem with Osama bin Laden and the Taleban.

As always in the fog of war, there's going to be casualties and collateral damage.

I know that all the military planners in the United States and in the coalition are trying to do their best to do this as quickly as possible with the least amount of damage to Afghanistan and the Afghan people. But as always in the fog of war, there's going to be casualties and collateral damage.

But I know, having worked with your armed forces in your country and the people that are in positions of command there, they're doing their best that they can to do this as quickly and as painlessly - if we can say it that way - as possible.

Bridget Kendall:

We've had an email from Alan Hodgson in London talking about another aspect of the wake of September 11 which is the whole question of terrorism. He says: In order to effectively combat terrorism, surely we first need a working definition. How would you define terrorism?

King Abdullah:

Again this is going to be a problem for the international community on how do actually define terrorism, because in one country - or to one group of people - the word might mean something completely different.

To me a terrorist is somebody who voluntarily takes the lives of innocent people.

Having been a soldier, it's fairly clear in my mind what a terrorist would be and if I can say what a terrorist is as opposed to what he is not. Anybody who takes the lives of innocent people - if somebody puts a backpack of explosives and goes to a pizza restaurant and blows himself up and kills innocent people, that is a terrorist.

Where it becomes a bit greyer - if you have an individual that takes on and kills people of the armed forces. That's where the definition between terrorism and freedom fighter is a bit more grey. But to me a terrorist is somebody who voluntarily takes the lives of innocent people.

Bridget Kendall:

We've had lots of questions to our Online website in Arabic too. This next e-mail comes from Aymen al-Ansari, who is in Norway who wants to ask about Jordan's participation in the coalition against terrorism and whether it is a symbolic act only. Or whether you are offering something practical to the coalition.

King Abdullah:

Well we don't like to do things just for the sake of being symbolic. From day one we were very clear on our position.

We will do whatever is required to join the international coalition to combat terrorism

We'll do whatever it takes to help our friends to fight international terrorism and again as a reminder, there have been, in our history as a new nation, more Jordanian diplomats and officials that have been killed or wounded by terrorism than any other country in the region including Israel.

So we have been fighting terrorism for 40 to 50 years and as a result you won't get shady stances from Jordan. We're committed and we will do whatever is required to join the international coalition to combat terrorism.

Bridget Kendall:

Would that include offering troops from Jordan - whether to the military action in Afghanistan, or there has been talk of peacekeepers that might be needed afterwards? Perhaps it might be a good idea to have them from Muslim countries.

King Abdullah:

I think we will be very clear whatever it takes we will be prepared to do it.

Bridget Kendall:

Including the military action in Afghanistan - ground troops, special forces, if they are needed?

King Abdullah:

Well again you have to be very specific what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. But if there is a particular role because there is a particular objective, I think that you'll find Jordan to be very open to any suggestions.

Bridget Kendall:

You don't think that would make a problem for Jordan in the Muslim world, the Arabic world, where the response to what the Americans are doing in Afghanistan has been, in some cases, quite hesitant and in other cases ambiguous?

King Abdullah:

Again this is a very sensitive issue simply because there are many frustrations in our part of the world dealing with a lot of conflicts in the Middle East, and so there are a lot of people in the Arab and Muslim world that see there is maybe a double standard approach by the West in dealing with some things with more bias than others.

Whenever there is a military objective, it has to be thought through very well. But once you think you it through, it has to be carried through with unflinching resolve.

Therefore, when you have a problem, as you have now, with Osama bin Laden, or with Afghanistan, those sensitivities are going to rise. But I think that that we understand that there is a clear threat to the international community and that clear threat, at this stage, is Osama bin Laden, not Afghanistan or the Afghan people.

And I so I think that you will see that the Jordanian Government response will be very specific to that.

Bridget Kendall:

Let's go to our next caller. This is Noam Rosen who is in Toronto, Canada: Noam, you are on the line:

Noam Rosen, Toronto, Canada:

Hello. King Abdullah, first of all I would like to compliment you on your moves in the Middle East towards peace. I think you are doing an excellent job of moderating the positions between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

My question for you is what do you think the best way of expressing sympathy for the innocent victims of this war, while at the same time supporting the US-led fight in Afghanistan? How do you do that without cancelling out the other?

King Abdullah:

Expressing solidarity for the victims - you're referring to Afghanistan in particular?

Noam Rosen:

Well all the innocent victims of the war.

King Abdullah:

This is the problem that whenever you have conflict with evil, there are going to be casualties of innocent people and it's whether we are going to be resolute.

We wouldn't want the operations to go more than a single second longer than it has. But having said that, we do have a problem. We have to deal with it.

Obviously, I think, whenever you embark on a military operation or there is a military objective, it has to be thought through very well. But once you think you it through, it has to be carried through with unflinching resolve and you have to achieve your aims at the end of the day.

So it is a very delicate balance. I think that the planners in the coalition are, as we all are, very sensitive to the innocent people. But at the same time if we don't deal with the problem we're just going to have to revisit it again. As a result, there are discussions of whether this war should continue into the month of Ramadan or longer, I think that any human being would want confrontation or violence to cease as quickly as possible.

So we wouldn't want the operations to go more than a single second longer than it has. But having said that, we do have a problem. We have to deal with it and we have to pray to God that we are smart enough to do it with the least amount of innocent people being caught up in it. It's very, very difficult.

Bridget Kendall:

We have an email from Arif Goraya, NYC, USA: We all feel angry about the events of 11 September, but why is your government not protesting the killings in Afghanistan? Does that mean that Afghan blood is cheaper than in the United States?

Before I ask you to respond to that, let's just go to our next caller whose talking about the same subject we have just been discussing. Aziza Wayezi who is in Maryland in the USA
Aziza Wayezi:

Good morning your Majesty. I just wanted to ask your views about air strikes or military action Afghanistan in the holy month of Ramadan.

King Abdullah:

Well obviously if you are talking from a religious point of view, all of us would like to see the military conflict in Afghanistan, as I have just said, bought to a resolution as quickly as possible.

No life is cheaper than anybody else's and this is what has to be remembered.

But if we want to get into the religious aspects of things, religious holidays such as Ramadan or any other from any other religion, has never been a subject of whether war should be carried out or not.

Obviously whenever there is religious holidays, it is much more sensitive for people - whether it's Christians or Muslims in this case - Ramadan is on the verge of happening and so is Christmas and I think that increases the imperative for the military commanders in the coalition to try and bring this to a quick resolution.

There is no way of answering the first question that was put to us. No life is cheaper than anybody else's and this is what has to be remembered.

When Osama bin Laden brought aircrafts to crash into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, he didn't care which lives he was affecting - Jordanians died [as did] many nationalities - I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of Afghans died in those particular targets also.

But there is an evil out there that we have to deal with. It is unfortunate for the Afghan people that Osama bin Laden has decided to make his base of operation in Afghanistan and I feel very sore.

I believe that the majority of Afghans are saying - who is Osama bin Laden and why has he brought this on us. I think there has to be tremendous sympathy for the Afghan people. They have been left on their own for many, many years throughout the crises their country has had to suffer.

But I can reassure you also that having talked to the United States administration and to European leaders that although we are seeing the suffering of what the bombings may be inflicting on the Afghan people, the next stage will be finally to try and solve the problems of Afghanistan - to rewrite the economic and social problems that that country has and get them back on their own two feet - otherwise what is the future of the Afghan people?

So we have to put up with this military stage but I think there is an understanding from the international community that after the military stage we have to bring money, finance - you have to help the people be able to govern themselves. The President said, I am not about nation-building, I am here to resolve the issues.

Bridget Kendall:

There clearly is a lot of concern at the moment though over this question of Ramadan. Here is an email from Sacre Jean Eric, Brussels, Belgium saying: As a former military man perhaps you know if there's a tradition of ceasing combat between Muslim fighters during Ramadan?

But I wanted to go back to Aziza. Did that answer your question?

Aziza Wayezi:

Yes, it did answer my question. But I have had this fear for many years and it has been realised that I know Afghanistan would have to pay for having Osama bin Laden as its unwanted guest. However, being of Afghan origin and a Muslim, I understand the need for the military action in Afghanistan against the Taleban and the al-Qaeda network. But my only concern is what the other Muslim countries' reaction would be - it may have a bad effect around the Islamic world and I am also afraid a wave of hatred may follow - that is the concern I have.

King Abdullah:

Absolutely. There are a lot of sensitivities and you have got to understand that the frustration in the Arab and Islamic world is simply because they have felt from their point of view that there has been double standards in dealing with a lot of issues in our part of the world. So there are core issues in the Middle East that have created sensitivities - have created tremendous frustration and this is just another extent of that.

Out of adversity comes tremendous hope of the world coming together once and for all - I hope for the better

But again, I think that those involved in the coalition had been debating this question because they understand the sensitivities. I think the 11 September is a new day for the world - out of adversity comes tremendous hope of the world coming together once and for all - I hope for the better and there is a chance of doing that.

So the understanding between the East and the West, between Muslims and Christians and Jews is, I think, the essence of what it is that we are trying to embark on - breaking down those barriers. The quicker we move, the quicker we will be able to resolve the frustrations and the sensitivities of people in our part of the world. But definitely leading into Ramadan there is going to be a lot of reservations if the campaign is going to continue.

Bridget Kendall:

We have had quite a lot of emails from people who are obviously very interested in the role of moderate Muslim countries in this crisis. For example, Albert P'Rayan, Kigali, Rwanda says: Why are moderate Islamic scholars and leaders hesitant to condemn Osama bin Laden, who has been trying to divide the world into followers of Crusade and Jihad?

Let's also bring up on the phone Jonathan Terra who is in Prague, in the Czech Republic - Jonathan:

Jonathan Terra, Prague, Czech Republic:

Thank you. Your Majesty, you just spoke of evil, so I think it is appropriate to quote Edmund Burke who once said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

And related to the last question from the e-mailer, there is an impression in the West that good Muslims are doing nothing to stem the tide of radical Islam. So my question is first: Why aren't you and other prominent Arab leaders in countries such as Egypt, Syria and perhaps even Saudi Arabia, organizing or at least encouraging a collective action campaign in which moderate Muslims who make up the majority would be able to denounce effectively radical Islamism - this would include respected clerics who might participate?

Second, why don't you and other influential Arabs go straight to the mosques, straight to Al-Jazeera - which has been taken over as a de facto global ministry of propaganda by al-Qaeda and send a message of moderation to help discredit and stigmatise Osama bin Laden?

King Abdullah:

To answer that question, we are. If I may just take a side-step for a moment - there is no such thing as moderate Islam and extremist Islam - there is Islam and there is the extremists and I think that has to be understood.

There is no such thing as moderate Islam and extremist Islam. There is Islam and there are extremists.

I think that the 11 September is not only a wake-up call for the world but in particular for Muslim communities throughout the world.

There is a distinct problem - I think it took everybody by surprise. The Osama bin Ladens of this world are certainly fundamentalist extremists in our religion that have definitely distorted Islam and then hijacked Islam for their own very destructive ends and as a bi-product of maybe the Cold War are still, in many parts of the world, coming out of that.

The 11 September probably took a lot of people by surprise - there's a lot of things that were not considered politically correct. It may not have been politically correct inside of Islam to say that there is an ideological confrontation, where the majority of Muslims believe in one thing and [this] has been distorted by people like Osama bin Laden.

I think there will be a lot of soul-searching inside of Islam in the coming years and this is not something that is going to be dealt with in months, but it will take years, if not decades of what we truly believe in because people like Osama bin Laden have taken the words of the Koran and of the Prophet and turned them upside down.

This has been particularly damaging in areas where Islam is prominent in non-Arabic speaking countries - in Africa and in Asia where Arabic is not the first language of those individuals. So these extremists have been able through their network to be able to get into the mosques and through the communities to say this is what Islam stands for and it is completely against what we stand for.

What we are doing now in the Arab world is coming together - the core of Islamic society to say that we have to stand up and we have to educate and as a result you see clerics coming not only to educate and warn the Islamic communities in the Middle East and the Islamic world what these people are about, but also coming to European countries and to western countries - in England in particular as an example or anywhere else in Europe - to say that we understand the problem inside your Muslim communities.

A lot of them have been misguided because of these individuals and we would like to be able to come in and voice our opinion to the average Muslim in these European countries to say this is what we stand for. Unfortunately they have been duped by the Osama bin Ladens of this world and it is a great problem that we are addressing now.

If you are looking for a reaction, well Jordan has reacted - I can speak on behalf of my country - but I think it took everybody else by surprise. And it is the realisation that we have this struggle and coming out into the open to be able to challenge. So its something we have to look inside of ourselves.

Kolathodi Mohamed, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia:

The Americans consider Osama to be the prime suspect in the New York and Washington attacks. Then they declared war on Afghanistan, in a matter of weeks, apparently without looking much into the possibilities of illegal extradition which can take years.

My question is will the present US action in Afghanistan set a bad precedent - that if you are powerful enough you can attack weaker countries and get a suspect out by force. If your answer is "yes" then why do you support the United States?

If you say "no", will it not set a bad precedent, and what is your justification?

King Abdullah:

Again, I think we have to remember what happened on 11 September - I think the most dramatic, catastrophic terrorist incident that has happened in the world - and unfortunately whether you like it or not, Osama bin Laden is responsible for what was perpetrated in the United States.

I do believe that from the outset there was an opportunity given to the Afghan Government and to the Taleban in particular to look at it from legal means. But I think we all understood that the reaction was very negative from the Taleban so the only alternative was to go after the man who perpetrated a tremendous amount of violence on innocent people.

Again it wasn't just Americans that lost their lives but many people from the international community, and so it's not fair to assume that Osama bin Laden is innocent. He is guilty and he has created a tremendous destruction and continues to call for the death of Christians and Jews.

And if you understand where Osama bin Laden is coming [from] - if you don't believe in his brand of Islam, we as Muslims are also the next target. So I think we have got to stay focused on what Osama bin Laden represents and how much of a problem he is - not just for the United States but for the rest of us.

Bridget Kendall:

We have just had an e-mail from someone who has been watching us on the web while we have been talking. This Kenny from Washington DC in the US wants to ask you: Do you support the statement made by President Bush that you're either with us or against us?

King Abdullah:

Again I think you have to clarify what the President is stating. What the President is stating is that the world has dramatically changed since the 11 September - it is not the world that we knew.

It's up to countries that have been questionable in their methods of supporting terrorism or doing things illegal, wrong or evil - to have the chance to decide where they want to stand.

Different alliances are being formed. The map of the world is not going to look the same. Countries that used to be antagonistic towards each other are coming closer and closer together. There was a rumour that Russia might become part of Nato or Nato might change its designation.

I think it is a clear indication that the world is definitely changing. So as a result, I think that you will see things moving for the better. What the President says - if I can translate in my own words - is that what's happened before 11 September is the past, we are now embarking upon a new world and a new world order - one which I hope will be good. As I said, out of adversity, comes hope.

So it's up to countries that have been questionable in their methods of supporting terrorism or doing things illegal, wrong or evil - to have the chance to decide where they want to stand. Do they want to stand as part of the new international community or do they want to be on the periphery?

I think that's the President's message and the message has been through dialogue to a lot of countries that have those question marks on them - look these are the problems that we have with you - we would like through dialogue and through diplomacy to be able to sort those problems out.

But be under no misconception that if you don't, we're going to come back and revisit that particular equation because we do have a problem with you. And as a result a lot of countries around the world that do have difficulties with the international community are looking into themselves now and deciding which way they are going to stand.

So I think when he says - with us or against us, I think we are looking at a much bigger concept of that. We are looking at a new world order that is going to be safe and secure and stable.

The other part of that is I believe that the West and the countries that have the financial capability have understood how imperative it is to solve not only the conflicts of peoples around the world but also the deprivation that is in a lot of societies.

If the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, you're always going to have a problem. It is in my vested interest for you to be healthy, for you to have an economy, for your people to be employed if I am going to be safe. So I think that's the type of new world that we are talking about.

Bridget Kendall:

There is a problem though where support from the government is very strong, whether it's in your case, Saudi Arabia, other countries in the Muslim world, but there seems to be a lot of popular feeling on the street that goes the other way to supporting Osama Bin Laden. We've had an email from Ben Davis, Croydon, UK, who says: By supporting the American campaign are you not risking a coup or popular uprising against you?

King Abdullah:

No and I think you have to understand again the message that Jordan had from the outset that obviously we stand tremendously against what Osama bin Laden did in America because he has been doing it to us - he is an enemy of Jordan.

We need to address some of the issues that we have in the Middle East. One of those issues is the Palestinian-Israeli [conflict]

But at the same, our message when we went to the United States was very clear, that if you want to solve the root cause of the problem so you don't have another 11th September we need to address some of the issues that we have in the Middle East. One of those issues is the Palestinian-Israel [conflict]. If you don't address that and if we don't see movement on the Palestinian and Israeli track then you are going to fall into the problem that you have just mentioned.

Bridget Kendall:

Our next caller is someone who wants to take us onto a slightly different track, which is more about you personally though it's also very much about Jordan. Menachem Fruchter in Antwerp, Belgium.

Menachem Fruchter, Antwerp, Belgium:

Good afternoon your Highness. I read about how you go into the country incognito dressed up [so as] not to be recognised and check out how your subordinates live. Do you still do that and what do you learn from it? There must be much room for improvement in a country like Jordan.

King Abdullah:

Yes, we do still do that. I lived all my life, I guess you could say, as a normal citizen. I served in my country's armed forces and travelled to all different parts of the country pretty much freely.

It is very easy for you to get disconnected from the people because you can find yourself isolated very easily

My greatest concern is that after the tragic loss of his late Majesty King Hussein and I was put into this position - it is very easy for you to get disconnected from the people because you can find yourself isolated very easily.

Having served in the armed forces, the majority of the people from my country come from the lower-income sector of society and so for 20 years I was confronted with the problems of poverty, of unemployment that my soldiers' families used to go through.

As a result in particular from day one, economic and social reform has been the priority and I knew where most of the root problems were. Now the problem is two or three years down the line, things change and so you need to be reminded of where the problems are.

A lot of people that can be around leaders would like to tell them what they think they would like to hear. So you have a mental effort to break out of that - to keep going back to reinforce what you think are the problems.

Invariably I have had to disguise myself again to go back a couple of weeks later to make sure that what I have asked has been done.

So by travelling around it's just a reinforcement that this is a particular sector of society that needs help and since nobody knows who you are you can actually get a feeling whether the government is treating a citizen properly, whether the hospital is providing the right type of services and then I can go back and bring in individuals who are responsible and say: Look you have been letting society down - letting Jordanians down, don't do it again.

Invariably I have had to disguise myself again to go back a couple of weeks later to make sure that what I have asked has been done. In the first year of my reign, so to speak, people didn't take it seriously - they said he went and checked up the hospital and nothing is wrong, we don't have to do anything, he is not going to go back.

Well we went back two or three times and a lot of people lost their jobs until we got the right people in the position of that particular hospital to be able to serve the people properly.

Bridget Kendall:

You must be using some very heavy disguises then as you get better known. Are you going let us in on the secret of what possible disguises you might have in the future?

King Abdullah:

There are simple. But obviously in winter it's much easier because you can put on more clothing and more disguises. It gets a bit difficult in the summer. A lot of the visits nobody knows about. Every now and then some people find out - it is when people find out that people start to look and we have been very careful to make sure that no pictures are taken.

Bridget Kendall:

So you haven't been found out yet?

King Abdullah:

The second time I was found out when we went with a camera crew. We did it again a year later with a camera crew and after the second visit we went to see two places people became suspicious.

The last time that it was announced was simply because we stole some files from a government office that was supposed to be doing taxation forms for people and it was empty and there was a lot of people inside. So I walked into the office and came out with the files and then called up the director and said obviously nobody was at work and not doing their job and here's the proof and so that's why the word got out.

Bridget Kendall:

We've had an e-mail from Ehsan, Edinburgh, UK: He asks: Do you feel that when you became king that your public constantly looked for you to fill your late father's shoes?

King Abdullah:

Well his late Majesty had very big shoes to fill and will continue to be a high benchmark for us to judge how we are doing.

His late Majesty was so much larger than life that it is a continual reminder to not only myself but everybody who works with us that what we are trying to do is live up to the expectation and the ethical moral marks that he left on all of us. It's a good reminder for all of us what his Majesty wanted from his country and what he wanted for his people, and it is a good target for us to remind ourselves on a daily basis.

Bridget Kendall:

He is perhaps best known around the world for his role in the Middle East peace process. It is the Middle East we want to come onto now Shai Aharony, in London:

Shai Aharony, London:

Your father, the late King Hussein, managed to win the hearts and minds of millions of Israelis when he took the extremely brave move to personally express his condolences to the parents of young schoolchildren, who were gunned down by an extremist.

What do you think can now be done to regain and rebuild the trough between the Palestinians and Israelis?

King Abdullah:

We have to get the violence removed from both sides and get them back around the peace table and I think that we have as an international community to come out as Prime Minister Blair so well put it yesterday and identify where we are going.

To this day, as an Arab, I don't know whether or not there'll be a Palestinian state.

To this day, as an Arab, I don't know whether or not there'll be a Palestinian state. As an Israeli you probably don't know whether or not there'll be a Palestinian state. As an Israeli, you probably don't know whether or not there will be an integration of Israel into the Middle East.

So as the Prime Minister put it yesterday, I think we have to identify that there will be a future Palestinian state. There will be the integration and security of Israel into the region and if we have those two as givens, as the Prime Minister said, then you can work back because then you reassure the Palestinians and the Arab community in general and the Israelis that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and unfortunately that has not been stipulated enough.

So really none of us know where we are heading and so the international community, I believe will come together, I hope, sooner rather than later to identify as the Prime Minister said, those two [objectives] and allow us some benchmarks to work from.

Bridget Kendall:

We have had quite a few mails about this question of a Palestinian state. This is from Filip Lommaert, Bexley, Kent: When a Palestinian state becomes a reality, do you see a lot of Palestinian residents of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan moving to this Palestinian state?

Our next caller on the phone is Azmi Tayeh, Sacramento, California:

Azmi Tayeh:

My question is: It looks like it is only a matter of time before a Palestinian state is declared. What do you envisage to be the relationship between Palestine and Jordan?

King Abdullah:

Well I think the sky's the limit. We have been, I think in the past couple years of talking about the confederation between Jordan and a future Palestine before there is a Palestinian state because we don't want people to get in the middle and use that as a vehicle of confusion. So we said that there is no such thing in our dictionary as a confederation between Jordan and a future Palestinian state until there is a Palestinian state. What we needed to do is achieve a Palestinian state and then I believe that the sky is the limit of what Jordanians and Palestinians can do to sit together.

Bridget Kendall:

The other email was whether refugees living in Jordan would return home.

King Abdullah:

Again, you have to understand the way that his late Majesty looked at Jordanian society and the way that we look at it. Everybody in our society is a Jordanian citizen whether you come from Palestinian origin or from the Caucasus or anywhere else in the Middle East - you are a Jordanian first. But for the Jordanians of Palestinian origin, it is their right to have at least the principle right of return to a state and it is right that, at least in principle the Palestinian people should have all over the world and this is a right that we in Jordan would defend and support.

Having said that, I personally would be surprised because all Jordanians and all those of Palestinian origin have become such a part of our society - I would be surprised if it [were but] a small portion that would want to go back. Again, I think I have to maybe clarify that because I am about to turn 40 and 70% of the country is younger than me. So you have a generation of young people of Palestinian origin that don't really have any links - they weren't born in the West Bank etc. So to the younger generation of Jordanians, I believe the importance is to move on with their lives - they want to have prosperity, they want to have jobs. So that question is going to become less and less relevant as time goes on.

Bridget Kendall:

Of course all that's predicated on whether there will be an Middle East peace. There was quite a lot of hope in the wake of 11 September that it might provide a new impetus to make that possible and now here we are nearly two months further on and there is quite a lot of frustration that it doesn't seem to have got anywhere.

We have had a couple of emails reflecting that. Chris O'Brien in Dubai, UAE asks: Is there any hope for peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis? Shouldn't the leaders of both sides accept that they have failed and make way for new, younger leaders?

Bruce McCoy, San Francisco, USA asks: Do you believe the peace process between Israel and Palestine is possible with Sharon and Arafat in leadership roles?

King Abdullah:

There no alternative for the future stability of the Middle East without having peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and as a bi-product of that an independent viable Palestinian state. Whether people like or not, sooner or later there will have to be that otherwise 11 September will come back and haunt us and we'll have many more problems like that in the future. So I think what we are having to say is Israelis and Palestinians you will have to sort your differences so that we can move on. People will have to understand sooner or later there will have to be a Palestinian state. There will have to be peace between the Israelis and the Arabs because we have to move on with our lives and the quicker people can realise that the better.

As for the leadership - it is very easy for people to say is that leader the right leader of that particular country or that particular party. Arafat is the symbol of the Palestinian people - Sharon is the prime minister, duly elected by his people of the state of Israel. So that is up to the Palestinians and Israelis to decide whether their leaders are effective or not effective and not for us.

Bridget Kendall:

But there are a lot of Israelis - at least one hears it quite a lot - who say Arafat is not the right man for peace and conversely on the other side there are quite a lot who say as long as Mr Sharon is there leading Israel what hope is there for any sort of breakthrough.

King Abdullah:

I think both sides realise that they have to move forward and that the international community will continue to demand more of them - whether they like it or not - peace between them will have to happen. Because we have a much bigger problem on our hands which is the problems of international terrorism, the problems of 11 September and unless you solve the Israeli/Palestinian problem, 11 September will happen again.

Bridget Kendall:

David Busk, Nagasaki, Japan asks: Does Your Majesty consider that the idea of Jerusalem as either an international city or a joint Palestinian-Israeli capital has any merit?

King Abdullah:

Again you have to understand there was a lot of ground broken between the Israelis and Palestinians over the last year - from Camp David leading to Taba where the delineation of the old city was spoken in somewhat dramatic detail. There was one or two major issues that still needed to be tackled. If were at Camp David when Jerusalem was brought up as a subject - none of us thought that it was a subject that could have been discussed. If you saw what happened in two or three months, a lot of ground was covered. As the Israelis and Palestinians, I hope, move back to negotiations [I hope] that we don't start from scratch but we start from pretty much from where Taba left off.

Wouldn't it be wonderful in this century as we start a new millennium that Jerusalem - the holy part of Jerusalem - is a symbol of Muslims, Christians and Jews coming together and we have to look a the bigger picture. We have issues in the world and as we form this new world society, I hope for the better, what a wonderful symbol it would be that Jerusalem would be a part of that.

Bridget Kendall:

But to kick-start this process, who do you think the onus is on? You have indicated you think it's leaders in the region or do you think the United States should do more?

King Abdullah:

Again, I think we have seen over the past year of the intifada that there has been very little movement between the Israelis and Palestinians to break the cycle of violence and therefore the international community does play a vital role of being a fair and balanced partner to try and broach the gaps between both sides.

Bridget Kendall:

We have had quite a lot of people who've sent in questions asking about Jordan and its future internally not just in the context of the Middle East.

Pascal Jacquemain who is French although he lives here in Britain says he is a computer programmer and says: Your aim to train as many people as possible in Information Technology is a very good one. But what can you do to try and convince IT professionals to stay in Jordan rather than emigrate to countries where wages, conditions, political stability may be better such as The Emirates, Saudi Arabia, or even Western Europe or the US?

We have on the phone Saleh Hussein who is in Amman Jordan who also has a question for you.

Saleh Hussein:

We have many skilled and educated expertise in Jordan in all domains I believe. Most of these young people are thinking of leaving the country just for a better income. What do you have to say to this very skilled and educated Jordanian youth to keep it from leaving the country and of course keep Jordan from losing its expertise?

King Abdullah:

This is what we have been trying to do in the past three years. It is such a shame that such high skilled Jordanians - I think as you probably know, the number one export we have is our human talent - we have a lot of it and very highly skilled it is too. So what we are trying to do is create opportunities in Jordan with investment, reaching out to international companies to create a centre of excellence in Jordan so that the Jordanian has the opportunity to stay in his country.

In the IT market, the IT companies have doubled in the past 18 months. Two or three major companies that were run by Jordanians have come back from the Gulf and even the United States because we are setting the foundations to give them advantages to stay in Jordan. In our address to the government last week, we are looking at a very strong courageous economic reform programme for 2002. It's aimed at not only creating more jobs but opportunities in the hi-tech sector to keep the talent back in Jordan. This is something that we have been trying to do from day one. The market has improved.

We have identified IT technologies as a growth market - it has doubled in the size of companies and personnel in 18 months. So I think that's a good indicator but we want a lot more. I hope that we in the very near future will be a country similar to that of Ireland. Ireland is a very good model that we are looking at to give the opportunity for Jordanians to stay in their country and contribute and that is the aim that we have been trying to do for the past two or three years. We are moving in the right direction - not as fast as I want but we are moving.

Bridget Kendall:

Saleh, can I ask you, are you feeling any of the impact of His Majesty's reforms or do you think that you might be one of those people who would emigrate?

Saleh Hussein:

Yes, I am already improving myself in the field of IT. I am a chemist and I am applying IT and computers to the field of chemistry and pharmaceutical research here in Jordan.

Bridget Kendall:

Are you planning to stay in Jordan or do you think you might go abroad as you say for higher salaries and opportunities?

Saleh Hussein:

Well for the moment now my income is not adequate for the job that I do here. So if I was to get the appropriate income for myself I would not think of it.

King Abdullah:

This is the problem. From day one we say we want to get food on the table and the thing is we want to be able to [improve] the social welfare of our people. In England in particular we have been talking to IT companies to come and establish their centres of excellence in Jordan but also pharmaceuticals. We have, as this gentleman is, a lot of talented people - we just have to create the opportunities. I think a lot of international companies are seeing Jordan as an irresistible place to come and invest and hopefully by doing that we will create more jobs and better salaries for our people.

Bridget Kendall:

But it's also very ambitious in a country that is not only well educated but is in some ways very traditional. Fiona Wherrett, Scotland, UK asks: You are keen to promote Jordan as a hub for high-tech industries in the Middle East. Do you see a role for Jordanian women in this?

King Abdullah:

Absolutely. I think as you start to go into the IT companies that are being set up in Jordan the percentage of women increasing in that has been phenomenal. Not only that, what we have done is - because the government has only a limited financial capability to put in these reforms - we have been working with the private sector to put remote distance IT hubs in the rural areas and work our way back to the cities. The majority of people who take advantage of the courses are women. I think the technology opens a brand new field for women to excel in. I have been very surprised how many women have taken advantage of this and have benefited from IT.

Bridget Kendall:

Let's go to our next caller who is Richard D Kingston in Limassol, Cyprus.

Richard Kingston:

Your Majesty, you have already made substantial progress with your ambitious plans for the development of Jordan and its people, particularly in the field of information and communication technology and I, through the US-funded Emir project have been privileged to play a part. Do you believe that the current international crisis and the troubles within Israel and Palestine will have a significant impact on your plans?

King Abdullah:

We would have thought so at the start of the intifada, for example, as everyone else was in the region, taken a couple of steps back and I am surprised that out of all the countries in the region that are caught up in the conflict, we are predicting over 4% growth this year which is unusual for anybody else in our area. Our tourism was hurt badly by 40% at the start of the intifada of last year but by August we were up 5%. I think that indicates that there is a feeling of confidence in Jordan and a stability in Jordan. We have been through such a rough history through our lives - I think that Jordanian society is very durable unlike other countries that are now facing problems for the first time. Historically we have been used to taking a lot of shocks and as a result we've have been able to ride those out.

I think that most people in Jordan have bought into the idea of what we are trying to do in Jordan to improve the economy. The thing is that we have to deliver - we have delivered obviously in the past two or three years even with the problems. But it is even more imperative at this time - it is not a time to be timid or cautious. In a time when every country in the world is thinking of marking time, this is a time to be courageous and take very dramatic steps forward.

Bridget Kendall:

We have had quite a lot of questions about the whole question of political development in Jordan. Mohammed Salameh, Amman, Jordan asks: The Jordanian government is limiting the freedom of the press, threatening journalists and newspapers. What are your views on this clamp-down?

Our next caller has a question in relation to that: Dr. Abdul Rahman Azizi also from Amman

Dr. Abdul Rahman Azizi

Good evening your Majesty. I am just wondering, your Majesty if you are aware of the temporary congregation law which is really considered non-constitutional and curbs basic freedoms. The explanations given by the government minister are not really convincing. For example, the Information Minister on the 4th September said that the laws are not sacred text. But surely, your Majesty, citizens' rights are sacred. It is not constitutional because it has not gone through the constitutional legal channels. This is in accordance with Article 94 of the Jordanian constitution. This law gives the prime minister the authority over the law where in normal circumstances laws should be above all.

King Abdullah:

Being as learned as you are, you probably know better and I know where you are coming from on that particular question. Let's use the start of the intifada as a benchmark for talking about public rallies. Over 600 public rallies, forums, discussions, whatever you want to call them, have been allowed by the government and are continuing to be allowed by the government. But there has to be a specific way of approaching how those are done. So there has not been a clamp down by the government to say that no rallies or demonstrations are allowed. But we have to, as in any other country, modern and democratic, you have to go through the legal notification to be able to do that. Since those rules have come out, rallies and meeting have continued to be allowed in Jordan and you know that and we will continue to allow them.

But where the problem is, is that when we know that in a certain rally that there's going to be an element - and we have seen this in Jordan in the past year and you are very aware of what I am talking about - when there are certain elements are going to leave the rallies so that they can overturn cars and break windows. Now when the authorities have a feeling that this is going to happen - we have talked to those that are organising the rally to say look don't do it this time. But all those people who have been banned from one certain rally probably came back the next week to have another one. So there is a dialogue that goes between both sides. So I think it is kind of unfair to paint a picture that is a one-sided thing.

If we could talk about press freedoms, I am very surprised that you say that because in my letter to the government last week, I specifically asked for the Ministry of Information to be disbanded. We have been the first people in the Middle East, because I believe that we need to have civil liberties and freedoms in our society and a good way of doing that is eradicating the Ministry of Information - creating a model where reasonable and responsible people from the media will create a higher committee to examine the ethics and the moral codes of the media in particular. Also I want to reassure you that that committee is not going to be run by government ministers - I want it from the media itself.

So I am saying the sky is the limit in freedoms but also there has to be some sort of responsibility and people have to meet us half way. So I am looking to an increased movement on press freedoms and also on the rule of law. Yes, we want to have a very free and open society but also there are particular elements out there that want to use those opportunities to create havoc in the streets - no country in the world is going to allow that. So let's be very clear, rallies, demonstrations are allowed in Jordan but you have to go through the appropriate channels and you in particular probably know what that method is and we will continue to allow that to happen.

Bridget Kendall:

We have also had a question about the monarchy in Jordan . This is from Dr Taoufik Nouri who is originally from Tunisia but now living in Switzerland. He asks: Why don't you make a regime like here in Britain or Belgium, where the king or queen has no executive role?

King Abdullah:

I presume as the world changes isn't that the way that monarchies will head?

Bridget Kendall:

What would you feel about that?

King Abdullah:

I think if we are looking at a modern liberal society, the way it is going is we are strengthening institutions. This is the problem that we have in maybe our part of the world - that institutions have not been the central core of moving countries forward. Our job, by improving the economy, improving social welfare, the way the government does business - strengthening institutions eventually that is going to be the end game.

Bridget Kendall:

You have only been on the throne for not very many years, you may, God willing, have many years ahead of year. Do you foresee then that by the end of your reign you'd be a very different sort of monarch - one which is taking less of an executive role?

King Abdullah:

I think that monarchies have to adapt to the new century and there is no way that we are going to survive as a nation if we are to stand in place. The world will demand countries - whether they are considered democracies, republics or monarchies - to move in a certain direction and we are all going to have to move with the times - definitely.

Bridget Kendall:

Let's go to our next caller whose is Hal Peat. He is in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA and you are on the phone now.

Hal Peat:

Good morning your Majesty. I was interested in asking about the future of tourism and travel in Jordan and whether you remain optimistic that Jordan's tourist industry can continue to develop in the short-term given recent world wide economic downturns and recent events here in the States and in the world?

King Abdullah:

Definitely Jordan is the place to go. As I said, it is remarkable with the 11 September and the intifada that our tourism has gone up 5%. So I think it's a clear indication that Jordan is a travel destination. What we are trying to in Petra, Wadi Rum and other beautiful sights in Jordan, including the resort city of Aqaba - I think Jordan will become a major destination in the Middle East over the next coming years. Not only that, the hotel infrastructure that is being put in, in Jordan is doubling virtually every two years. So I would recommend that Jordan is a place for you to come and visit.

Bridget Kendall:

What do you say to that? Are you planning to visit there?

Hal Peat:

I was interested in travelling to that part of the Middle East, I just didn't know how large corporations, like hotels, might have changed their development plans in countries like Jordan over the past six months or so.

King Abdullah:

The investment in tourism has continued to increase over the past 18 months - even with the 11th September and the intifada, it hasn't slowed down. If anything, as we've moved over in the past year and half, more opportunities for the big projects that we're talking about. For example, the port city of Aqaba is now becoming a special economic zone - it is basically a tax-free city with hotels being built. We have just signed a contract for four or five new hotels to be built there. So the confidence in the ideas that we're developing in Jordan, linked to historical sites such as Petra, Jerash and Wadi Rum is actually getting investors even more excited about what we are doing. So there is going to be an increase not a decrease.

Bridget Kendall:

But this perception that the world has become a more dangerous place, whether it was the intifada, now over a year old or the crisis since September11th surely must have an impact on tourism in Jordan. Look at what it has done to the airline industry in the rest of world and certainly here in Europe.

King Abdullah:

Well again we have been surprised but when we looked at the facts on the ground, more people visited us in Jordan this year than they did last year. So we are surprised as everybody. Jordan has always been known as a very hospitable, stable place. As an American, if you are asking that question, the best person to ask is probably the State Department and they will tell you that Jordan is a very safe and civil place to go and visit. Ask your own people as opposed to asking us.

Bridget Kendall:

You're not worried about violence - whether it is from the Middle East or from a wider crisis of terrorism spilling over your borders having an impact?

King Abdullah:

Jordan is remarkably quiet with all the events but again that doesn't mean that we should not address the issues at hand. If we don't move on the Israeli/Palestinian issue or others in our region, the region will always have that feeling of instability. So again, most of us when we want to move on with our lives and have economic and social reform, we have got to solve the core issues so that the economies in the whole region move forward and I think that is understood by all the players.

Bridget Kendall:

We are coming to the end of our programme and while we have been on air, your Majesty, we've had 50 more emails but we haven't been able to bring all of them to you. There is one that I did want to put to you. It is from Chris in Milwaukee in Wisconsin who says that personally he is very jealous that he heard that you were in a certain Star Trek episode. What a lucky man, he says.

King Abdullah:

I don't think I'm going to live that one down.

Bridget Kendall:

Can you tell us a bit about this?

King Abdullah:

I was in the Far East on my way to the United States on a military delegation and I had a stopover in Los Angeles and a friend of mine said would you like to come to Paramount Studios and see the set of Voyager. I have always liked the show and I thought that would be a great way to spend a weekend. I was then told well if you want go through makeup and get into uniform and have some pictures taken with some of the crew and I said why not. Then the next thing, when I actually showed up, they said that if you want you can stand in. So it wasn't planned it just turned out that way. I had a great time. It's a job - I am in full admiration of actors because it is very difficult. They are in very early in the morning. For most of the aliens it's is three or four hours of make-up and it's hard work and one that I'm full of admiration that they can do.

Bridget Kendall:

We found a picture of you actually which you can see here of yourself in that cameo role and you are wearing the Star Fleet uniform. Clearly on the side of the goodies not the baddies in whichever episode it was. I wonder what rank they gave you?

King Abdullah:

Actually they promoted me. In those days I was a colonel so they made me a commodore or something so I was pretty happy with that.

Bridget Kendall:

And they didn't give you any very dangerous part in the plot? You weren't assimilated by the Borg?

King Abdullah:

Because of the acting laws, unless you are part of the union you can't say anything. So I just had to nod my head and so it was just a brief introduction. A very interesting way of life.

Bridget Kendall:

Your Majesty thank you very much for letting us in on that.

That's all that we've got time for today in this special interactive programme with King Abdullah of Jordan. My thanks to you very for joining us for this session and to all of you for all your questions and emails and apologies for those who we didn't manage to get to. But you can watch a full video version of the programme on BBC news online at

But for now from me and from His Majesty, goodbye.


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