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King Abdullah on Powell's 'make-or-break' trip

Abdullah: Arafat is "in a stronger position than any other leader ... because of his popularity" in the Arab world.  

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

AMMAN, Jordan (CNN) -- King Abdullah II, who has diplomatic ties to both the Palestinian Authority and Israel, once again found himself in the center of the Middle East conflict Thursday with the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Shortly after talking and dining with Powell, Abdullah, the leader of Jordan, sat down with CNN Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and discussed the Middle East situation, Powell's mission and the prospects for peace.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: We've just listened to Secretary Powell and your foreign minister [Marwan al-Muasher] give their statements about this situation. Specifically, Secretary Powell said they wanted to move aggressively -- that was his word -- to a political track, to get some political action. Did he come with a new plan?

KING ABDULLAH II: We obviously talked about the importance of having a phased approach to bringing both sides to the peace table as quickly as possible. Obviously, that depends on [Powell's] success with [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon tomorrow and [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat on Saturday.

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But at the end of the day, what we need is an endgame, a series of steps that will take us to a final solution. And that needs to be identified in the next two days.

AMANPOUR: So it's not even identified yet, the mechanism you've spoken about -- that your foreign minister has spoken about.

ABDULLAH: I think everybody understands what's at stake -- a Palestinian state, security for Israel. But getting a commitment from Arafat and Sharon to be able to implement that: that is what needs to be discussed between the secretary of state, and Arafat and Ariel Sharon in the next few days.

AMANPOUR: What specifically has Powell asked you to do?

ABDULLAH: Again, Jordan has always been -- with Egypt and many other of the moderate countries -- an element that brings people together. We are in specific discussions with Arafat to give him the support, to give him the mandate to be able to have the leeway, I guess, to ... come with a phased approach.

AMANPOUR: Given Arafat's almost mythic status now since he has been besieged by the Israelis -- his status among the Arab people is very high -- do you think he is in a position of strength? Can he do things that would require compromise and concession?

ABDULLAH: I think that he is the all-time hero in the Middle East. He is in a stronger position than any other leader is at the moment because of the popularity he has not only with his own people, the Palestinians, but with that of the Arab world. So he is in a very strong position, I believe, to move peace forward. And I hope with that strength, will come the vision to ... talk to the Israelis and move away from the violence.

AMANPOUR: Given the unprecedented nature of the violence, given the historic antipathy between Arafat and Sharon, do you think that those two leaders are capable of doing what needs to be done now?

ABDULLAH: They have to. The alternative is violence on a scale that we've never seen before in this part of the world. I think both leaders -- as we said Arafat is in a strong position with the Arab public, Sharon is very strong with the Israeli public -- these are two people that can use strength to be able to put their differences aside. And if both of them lose this opportunity, then we're in a very sorry state of affairs here in the Middle East.

AMANPOUR: Do you detect, after your conversations, any new coherence in this U.S. administration's policy toward the Middle East?

ABDULLAH: Yes, I do. I think the president's statement was balanced, I think that he charged both sides that they need to do more. Powell is a very gifted statesman who understands what needs to be done.

Our job in Jordan and all moderate countries that want to have peace is to give all the support to Powell to achieve success in his mission.

AMANPOUR: President Bush, in his speech last week, specifically asked Arab leaders to do several things: to publicly denounce terrorism and violence, to call suicide bombers murderers and not martyrs, to stop funding suicide bombing and their families, to stop funding terrorism and certainly to stop incitement on state-controlled media. What have you done to meet those requests?

ABDULLAH: Jordan has always stood against terrorism and extremism. We have always been a country that never has condoned acts of violence and always has supported a platform that goes against the loss of innocent lives.

Our position with the United States on the 11th of September was very clear. We jumped in with both feet to support you.

But you have to understand that the fundamental problem here is when a 16-year-old girl goes and blows herself up. It's the root of the problem that we need to ... look at, and the root of the problem is that the Israeli government looks at this as a security problem. It's never been a security problem, it's a political one, [given the] 35 years of occupation [of Palestinian areas by Israel]. Unless they understand that [they need to] give dignity, hope and a future for the Palestinians [or else] we'll never be able to get out of this cycle of violence.

AMANPOUR: The suicide bombing of Israeli civilians has been considered untenable by many civilized people in this world. Arab leaders are being asked to condemn suicide bombings of civilians. I think nobody would argue that the Palestinians have a right to resist, but do you believe the suicide bombings of Israeli civilians is justified? And does it serve the Palestinians' political objectives?

ABDULLAH: Again, we've never ever supported, we've always stood against extremism. I think the Jordanian position has been very clear. We've always spoken out against any acts of violence that end up with the loss of innocent lives.

In that respect, I believe that other Arab leaders have also stood up against extremism. Even Arafat, not long ago, stood up to say that what was happening against Israeli civilians was ... wrong.

But you have to understand that at the same time, there is desperation. There is anger. And unfortunately when you get to the extreme level of hatred that is now in the street, desperate people will do desperate things. We have to realize that humanity has gone out of the window, and we have to bring some sort of balance and fairness -- at the same time that atrocities are happening across the board.

AMANPOUR: Let me try this again. Resistance many people feel is justified -- resistance against the military and military targets. But when it comes to killing civilians, many people view that as unjustified, immoral and essentially murder. Do you believe that the suicide bombings of civilians is justified?

ABDULLAH: I personally do not. And I've always stood against the loss of life, terrorism and extremism in all its forms. Me, as a person. But there is a feeling, whether rightly or wrongly, in the Arab street that [suicide bombings] are the only mechanism that the Palestinians have in retaliating.

But again, it's the root cause of a problem when a 16-year-old girl blows herself up, there's a problem there. And we have to solve the problem.

AMANPOUR: Do you think this has been counterproductive to the Palestinian cause?

ABDULLAH: It's been counterproductive to the point that it gives the Israeli government the excuse or the platform that they have the higher moral ground. And I think that we need to (be) able to move beyond that and solve the political problem at the end of the day.

AMANPOUR: Much has been made of Colin Powell and President Bush's dropping the word "immediate" or "without delay" from demanding Ariel Sharon withdraw his troops from the occupied territories. Do you, like many in the Arab world, believe that the U.S. has essentially facilitated this last week of incursions by not using the word "immediate" or by delaying Colin Powell's trip to the very end of the week?

ABDULLAH: I think that the American statements have been very strong, from the very minute that this calamity befell us, on asking that the Israelis to move out immediately. We have seen some movement on the Israeli armed forces, but nowhere near enough.

All I can say is that we need a persistent, stronger voice from the Americans to make sure that the pull-out is done immediately. The longer that you go on, the more Palestinians that are killed or wounded or beaten up, and the more you are going to build a new generation of hatred and violence.

AMANPOUR: Did Colin Powell ... say how he or President Bush feels about being repeatedly dissed or defied by Prime Minister Sharon?

ABDULLAH: We didn't get into specifics like that, but there is definitely a sense of frustration that the American administration has felt in not being able to get ... the Israeli army to move as quickly as it should. But I believe those views will be aired between Colin Powell and Prime Minister Sharon tomorrow. And let's hope that there is a positive outcome.

AMANPOUR: Did Powell say what he would tell Sharon?

ABDULLAH: What he did say was that he was going to have a very honest, straightforward, blunt discussion with him, which is what I've always come to expect from the secretary of state.

AMANPOUR: That he would demand an immediate withdrawal, or do you anticipate this going on longer?

ABDULLAH: I believe that the secretary of state understands that ... an immediate withdrawal is needed to bring down the cycle of violence and give Arafat the chance to move in the right direction.

So I would imagine, without putting words in the secretary of state's mouth, that he will be insistent on a very quick reaction.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that Sharon's intransigence makes the United States, makes President Bush look ineffectual?

ABDULLAH: I think it has stumped all of us. There is an international reaction to get the Israelis to stop what they are doing, and there is no positive response from the Israeli side. That has frustrated everybody. And I would imagine that it would be the same for the president of the United States. At the end of the day, America is the key element to be able to bring peace to the Israelis and Palestinians. And so, America's word and America's position should be heeded with great strength.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that America's influence has suffered over the last couple of weeks?

ABDULLAH: I think there has been a negative impression in the Middle East, where there [are some who] want to interpret it as a lack of willingness by the Americans to be even-handed. And I'm sure it's frustrated Europeans and Americans that they're not being taken as seriously as they should be.

AMANPOUR: When it comes to talking to Yasser Arafat, from your conversations with Secretary Powell, is the U.S. of the view that Arafat needs to be offered any kind of tangible incentive in order to call for an end to the violence and rejoin the political track?

ABDULLAH: I think the incentives are based on humanity. Here is a man who is isolated, his infrastructure -- the Palestinian National Authority -- has been taken completely apart, his people are in desolation, desperate sufferings are going on throughout the West Bank. He needs to be given a window of opportunity. There needs to be reaching out from the Israeli side, so that they can move beyond the isolation of Arafat [and] include him in further discussions.

AMANPOUR: Have you talked to Yasser Arafat in the last couple of weeks, since he's been besieged?

ABDULLAH: We obviously we've been in contact with him throughout the intifada for the past year-and-a-half, and especially since he was isolated in Ramallah. [We discuss] the simple things -- trying to get him food and electricity on one weekend. On another weekend he didn't have water to take medication and he called me to work the phones basically to do even those simple things, let alone to do the political workings of the phones to get a balanced approach.

AMANPOUR: Do you get a sense when you talk to Arafat that he feels that the current strategy of violent resistance is paying off politically?

ABDULLAH: I didn't get that impression. Obviously, he was very concerned of what was happening, because once violence starts to take on a life of its own, it's very difficult to control.

And I think that he understood very clearly that his people were suffering at the end of the day, and that he needed to bring a stop to this as quickly as possible.

AMANPOUR: What are you able to do now? Let's say there's a new initiative with Colin Powell seeking more involvement from Jordan and Egypt than perhaps than the previous political track, under Oslo. What can you and Egypt do?

ABDULLAH: Jordan and Egypt can assist the United States in identifying a series of realistic steps to try to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together. Jordan, on the other hand, is the only avenue of relief supplies and humanitarian aid into the West Bank. There is immense human suffering going on in the West Bank now -- and the only relief is across our borders.

And so we have the political capability on one hand and easing the suffering of the Palestinians on the other. And I think that it's the humanitarian catastrophe that's going to continue to unfold over the next couple of weeks, and that is going to take a lot of our time.

We've been working with NGOs [non-government organizations] and humanitarian groups. What I'm getting from them is that the West Bank is in very bad shape and people are suffering, people are dying. Jordan, with its meager resources, will do what we can. But I think the United States and the rest of the world is going to try and help. The avenue is Jordan to try to do that.

AMANPOUR: What do you think, realistically, is going to happen in the course of Colin Powell's visit to Israel and the territories? Where do you see this going?

ABDULLAH: I hope that Prime Minister Sharon will listen very seriously to what Secretary of State Powell has to say, on behalf of the president of the United States. [I hope he] will accept what the Americans are trying to say to the Israelis that they need to do.

On Saturday, the same thing from Yasser Arafat: that he complies again [with] what the Americans want. And if we can get a basis of understanding by the Israelis and Palestinians, then I think we can all move together to the next step.

AMANPOUR: Have you picked up the phone and talked to Ariel Sharon?

ABDULLAH: We've been in contact with the Israeli side, as we always have been ... so we can assist in defusing. ... When the Israelis have a problem and need messages sent to the Palestinians, this is where Jordan can play a role and vice versa. And obviously, we have been working the phones over the past several weeks -- not only with the Western world but with the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The Israelis in recent days are getting humanitarian aid into [the West Bank cities of] Jenin, Bethlehem, Nablus and the other cities that are in crisis.

AMANPOUR: In terms of the political plan, are we just going to try to expect a status quo of two weeks ago or is there a real feeling that this moment could produce some meaningful movement forward?

ABDULLAH: You have to have a meaningful symbol, you have to identify a goal that both the Israelis and Palestinians can reach out for. If it's just going to be a series of visits by leaders, we're not going to get anywhere.

It all comes down to the ... success that Colin Powell has with Ariel Sharon and Arafat. If he can open the door just ajar then the rest of us can get the momentum going.

AMANPOUR: How do you get the momentum going with these two intransigent figures? How do you think you can convince say, Arafat -- he's the one you have to pressure?

ABDULLAH: Well, ... I do not envy Secretary of State Powell. It's a make-or-break trip. I [believe he will say] to both these leaders that this is what it's going to take, this is what we expect from you. We as the United States are saying to both sides you're going to do steps 1, 2 and 3.

Once we understand a little more about what Colin Powell has achieved with both those parties, then we can build on that. So unfortunately, as frustrated as all of us are, we're going to have to see what [the next few days] provide. And I hope to God that there is that window [of opportunity].

AMANPOUR: You hope, but do you think that the United States has an influence over Sharon or Arafat right now?

ABDULLAH: I think the United States has an influence if it puts the right weight, the authority to be able to get to both sides. It is the United States of America at the end of the day. I think that President Bush is a very strong president, he has a strong administration. Him and Colin Powell, if they say this is going to happen, it's going to happen. But you need that strength from the United States.

AMANPOUR: And you think that he is going to tell Ariel Sharon that he has to be prepared to sit down in political negotiations?

ABDULLAH: I hope so.

AMANPOUR: You don't know for sure?

ABDULLAH: I'm sure that that's going to be the case [that Powell will ask]. I just hope that the other side takes what is being said to him.




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