During the World Economic Forum he hosted at the Dead Sea over the weekend, Jordan's King Abdullah spoke with Lally Weymouth.
Q. How do you see Egypt’s future?
A. I went to Egypt after visiting the U.S. in May. I had a message from the administration for General Tantawi [the head of Egypt’s military council].
Q. How did your visit to Egypt go?
A. With Tantawi—fantastic. We had a very good meeting. I think people were concerned as to how active the army was going to be in providing leadership. And the army had their concerns that if they stuck their neck out too far, they would be penalized.
Q. I think it is astounding that Tantawi did not take President Obama’s call for hours the night the Israelis were trapped in their embassy in Egypt. What did you think of that?
A. The feeling I got from the Egyptian leadership is that if they stick their necks out, they will just get lambasted like Mubarak did. So I think they are playing safe by just keeping their heads down, which I think creates more questions and sometimes allows things to get out of control. They have seen what happened to Mubarak, and Tantawi thinks there is too much pressure on him.
Q. From the streets?
A. No, from the West.
Q. They saw that Mubarak was sacrificed quickly and that scared them?
A. Exactly. So they are being very cautious in the decisions they are taking.
Q. Do you and other leaders in this area believe you cannot rely on the U.S.?
A. I think everybody is wary of dealing with the West. Wikileaks didn’t help confidence with American administrations because of conversations made public so easily. Again, looking at how quickly people turned their backs on Mubarak, I would say that most people are going to try and go their own way. I think there is going to be less coordination with the West and therefore a chance of more misunderstandings. Egypt is trying to develop its own way of moving forward.
Q. And Jordan?
A. I think two things make Jordan stand out. One is that we reached out to everybody and got a national dialogue committee. The other thing that made a major impact is that we have had demonstrations for the past 11 months but only one person has died of a heart attack, as a bystander. Nobody has been killed. It was a decision taken day one that we disarmed all our police. In other countries, police that didn’t know how to deal with citizens: Their solution was to pull out their guns and shoot.
Q. Do you think President Bashir al-Assad of Syria can last? Reportedly, some army defectors are coming into Jordan.
A. We have had very limited defectors—20 to 50. His late majesty and I have the same policy of non-interference in other countries’ internal issues. We are prepared to accept refugees. There have been some civilians who have come over here but most of the refugees went up to Turkey. We have been very careful to keep all channels of communication open with the Syrians.
Q. Does that mean you have talked to President Assad?
A. I spoke to Bashar al-Assad twice in the springtime. I sent the Chief of the Royal Court twice to go see him. The conversation was that here in Jordan we are reaching out to people, we are having a national dialogue committee and we would be more than happy to talk and exchange our experiences. Basically, they were not interested in listening to our advice. They basically told us that there are a bunch of thugs in Syria and they had everything under control. A couple of times I have felt that I should reach out to him but I really don’t know what to say. I think he does have reform in his soul, but I don’t think that type of regime allows for any potential reformist. From the times I have met him—and I am quite close to him—I do believe he has it in him, but the system doesn’t work that way.
Q. People are asking about an alternative to President Assad. Can another Alawite or a Sunni overthrow him? How do you see this playing out?
A. I think nobody has an answer to Syria. It is the big question. I think everybody is confused. The regime seems to be quite strong. I think you are going to see continued violence for the time being.
Q. Do you think they can win? In the West, you hear over and over that Assad’s days are numbered; it’s just a matter of time.
A. My view is when you use violence on your people, that never ends well. But anybody would be challenged to say if that’s six months, six years, or 16 years.
Q. What is your assessment of Libya?
A. It took everybody by surprise. We were committed to the transitional council from Day One. We had our F-16s flying out of Italy and we had our men on the ground in Benghazi.
Q. So you think the death of Colonel Gaddafi is a good thing?
A. There is an old saying that peace is going to be much harder than war. I think the challenge for Libya now is how to make this transition peacefully.
Q. I heard that Hamas leader Khalid Mashal is coming to Jordan, is that true?
A. If he comes here, it is part of looking at Palestinian reconciliation. It is not confirmed yet but there are discussions. Khalid Mashal visits every single Arab country on a regular basis except for Jordan. Because of the loss of Egypt’s political leadership, the rest of us are having to step up. On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Jordan’s relationship with the Palestinians has had to take a step forward.
Q. You support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ request for U.N. membership?