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Abdullah: Road map crucial to Mideast stability

From Christiane Amanpour
CNN Chief International Correspondent

King Abdullah:
King Abdullah: "Until we get movement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, it is difficult for other countries to relax enough to move the process forward."

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A democratic Iraq will be essential in helping stabilize the Middle East, Jordan's King Abdullah II told CNN Sunday, but the key component must be resolving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

And the solution must come sooner rather than later to quell Arab suspicions about U.S. motives in the region, the king said.

Abdullah said the road map to peace created by the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union -- the so-called Middle East quartet -- could be published Wednesday if the Palestinian parliament approves a new Cabinet in a Tuesday vote.

"We want it as soon as possible, but it's more than announcing just the road map," he said.

Once the road map is published, he said, "it needs action by the United Nations, by the quartet and particularly by the United States to be able to start moving the new Palestinian government and the Israeli one towards discussions."

"There's a lot riding on the road map and how the American administration deals with it," he said, noting that he believes the Bush administration is committed to pressure "both sides to get their act together and go forward."

Abdullah said the Israelis and Palestinians have specific steps laid out in the road map, which paves the way for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005, as does the rest of the Arab world.

The king acknowledged that Israel's concerns with its national security are valid ones, but both sides "need to get beyond that as soon as possible."

"As long as you keep security as an obstacle, you're not going to be able to develop the political process," he said.

Following the U.S.-led coalition's removal Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, Abdullah said quick movement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is vital to gaining the confidence of "the Arab street."

"People throughout the Middle East are very skeptical," he said. "The only way that you're going to make the right impression on the Arab street and throughout the region is to show there's going to be some transparency and solve the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

"If we don't move quickly, then everybody will say this is just part of an agenda and there's a list of who's next."

A fast solution would go far toward stabilizing the region and will set the stage for democratic reforms in many Arab nations, Abdullah said.

"Until we get movement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, it is difficult for other countries to relax enough to move the process forward," he said.

"The onus of security will always be used as an excuse by leaders not to develop democracy or freedom the way we all want," he said.

"With the cloud of the Israeli-Palestinian, the Israeli-Arab issue hanging over our heads, we'll never have the secure atmosphere ... to be able to develop in the way that we want."

But the king cautioned that democracy in the Arab world could take on different flavors.

"Different countries will set different paces," he said. "Democracy will mean different things to different nations. It has to be something that's homegrown."

On the Iraq issue, Abdullah said it was important the coalition get out as quickly as possible and hand the country over to Iraqis.

"Unfortunately, I think just the necessities on the ground mean they'll be there longer than everybody would like," he said, citing restoring order, finding Iraqis to fill key roles and preparing the international community to step in for its role.

"Practicalities, unfortunately, will make it go on a little bit longer."

The king said he was disappointed the coalition had not moved quicker to fill the vacuum left by the regime's collapse, but conceded that those outside the process were "not aware of the intricacies," making it "difficult for us to pass judgment."

Abdullah said meetings with Iraqi officials in the days and weeks just before the war began showed him the Iraqis "lacked the vision to really deal with the international community to avert the crisis."

"We had received several top Iraqi government officials," he said. "In each case they had a message from Saddam to ask me what they could do to solve the problem with the international community and the U.N."

Abdullah said he was "very explicit" in explaining that Iraq had to cooperate and abide by U.N. resolutions.

"In each case the government official who came to see me said, 'Well, I can't tell Saddam that,'" he said. "And I said, 'Then why are you here in the first place? If you're not going to get the message back to the leadership, you're wasting your time and you're wasting ours.'"


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