An Interview With Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
May 29 2013 12:46 PM

What Keeps Jordan Up at Night

An interview with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

(Continued from Page 1)

L.W.: Shouldn't the United States be doing more to help the opposition?

N.J.: Right now what they are doing is trying to get this political process going.

L.W.: If the United States doesn't help the opposition, won't the extremists dominate?

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N.J.: There is a serious danger. While it is up to the Syrian people to decide what their future is, we keep a very close eye on what is happening, especially with the rise of extremist organizations on Syrian soil.

L.W.: Some in the U.S. have been arguing that Washington should help the opposition because, if not, the extremists will dominate.

N.J.: Right now you have a golden opportunity that can be seized with an agreement between Russia and the United States. So let's see where that takes us.

L.W.: Aren't the jihadists growing in number? Aren't there about 6,000 of them?

N.J.: You hear different names every day.

L.W.: Some say even the Europeans are worried because some extremists come from there.

N.J.: Everyone is worried. You don't want an extremist presence on the ground in a way that is almost institutionalized in the form of a state inside Syria.

L.W.: Is the Muslim Brotherhood the most organized group there?

N.J.: Yes, they are organized, but you've got lots of different organizations.

L.W.: Do you believe in the creation of a "no fly" zone?

N.J.: Don't forget that a no-fly zone or a safe haven requires either international consent or the U.N. Security Council. But it also involves boots on the ground, and I think that lots of countries are trying to avoid that. That's why we have to give our all to this political track.

L.W.: Is there any strategic planning for what to do with the refugees, since they obviously aren't going home soon?

N.J.: In an ideal world, you want the situation in Syria to stabilize itself, to have this transitional governing body, to have security restored to the country and enable the refugees to go back to their homes. But while they are here, serious help is required to maintain them. Nobody is kidding themselves that the refugees are going to go home within two weeks of a political solution.

L.W.: And then you could have an ethnic war in Syria?

N.J.: That is exactly what we are trying to avoid. The composition of the Syrian population will give you a clear indication of the potential danger. In Syria, you have six or seven minorities each with more than 6 or 7 percent of the population. The minorities form a majority if you put them all together.

L.W.: So if they all started fighting each other?

N.J.: This is why we say the political solution has to be all-inclusive, where each minority has a presence and a role to play in the shaping of the future of Syria.

That's why the opposition has to be united and expanded in a way that guarantees this.

L.W.: What do you think about the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria?

N.J.: I think there are indications that they were used, but people are trying to ascertain why and where and how. And that's bad news, especially for countries neighboring Syria.

L.W.: You also have a deficit problem.

N.J.: Absolutely. We have a serious challenge to our economy. People forget that Jordan imports 96 percent of its energy.

L.W.: How much was imported before Egypt cut off the gas pipeline?

N.J.: With Egypt, it's two things. In 2011, the pipeline was being bombed every now and then. The result was that in 2011, we lost 155 days of gas, at a cost of $5 million a day. For a small economy like Jordan this actually matters. In 2012, there were no major incidents of blowing up the pipeline, but the Egyptians brought down the supply at times to zero. It was brought up, but it never actually reached the agreed-upon quantities.

If there is something that keeps us up at night, it's the price of oil. Every $1 increase in the price of a barrel of oil translates into a $40 million extra burden on our budget every year. Energy is our nightmare.

L.W.: Do you need more international assistance?

N.J.: We certainly need more international assistance.

L.W.: As foreign minister, what do you spend most of your time worrying about?

N.J.: Instability in the region. But one thing we haven't addressed is the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. We are encouraged by this new enthusiasm and dedication that we're seeing from President Obama and Secretary Kerry.

L.W.: Do you think an agreement is possible under these circumstances?

N.J.: In the absence of a viable solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, at the core of which is the Palestinian-Israeli thing, this region will continue to face further instability. This is a root cause of instability … that needs to be resolved.

L.W.: The Israelis see the instability in Egypt and Syria and the region. Do you believe this is the moment they'll come to an agreement with the Palestinians?

N.J.: I think Israel's future security depends on the establishment of a Palestinian state that is viable and brings security not just for Israel but for the whole region.

Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.

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