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Larry King Live Weekend

King Abdullah II Discusses the Future of Jordan

Aired June 3, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, he's the son of the legendary leader who reigned over Jordan for nearly 47 years, a military man who's become a monarch -- His Majesty King Abdullah II for the full hour, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening from the beautiful Ritz-Carlton hotel in downtown Atlanta. We wind up our 20th anniversary week and 15th anniversary of this show on CNN by spending an hour with His Majesty King Abdullah, the king of Jordan. Great pleasure to have him with us.

And thank you so much for joining us.

KING ABDULLAH, JORDAN: Thank you for having me.

KING: You were telling me before we started that two years ago you were you driving around this country in a rented car and now you're here as king. It must be a funny feeling.

KING ABDULLAH: It's a tremendous change, I mean, just not only losing your father but just to be thrown into this position of immense responsibility. Our lives were turned upside down.

KING: And having all the security and -- you're king for life, right?

KING ABDULLAH: That's it. It's for life. I have to adjust to the way things have changed and do the best that we can now.

KING: What's the biggest adjustment?

KING ABDULLAH: On our personal lives, just the freedom, as you said, the ability to be to able to move around yourself, people not knowing who you are, having a normal life. And that's a life that we don't have anymore, my wife and I.

KING: You knew your father was dying, right, as the world knew it?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, no, we didn't. I knew he had cancer. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I felt that he'd always come back to Jordan and have that tremendous welcome that he had. And it happened that, you know, a week later he got a lot worse.

I think most of us in Jordan believed that such a great man like that would never succumb to an illness. He was...

KING: You don't die, right?

KING ABDULLAH: No, he was so much bigger than life. And it was a shock. And I think maybe our family and the country, for the most part, were in denial through his illness.

KING: Were you at all surprised at the world acclaim? Did anything about the intense acclaim around the world surprise you?

KING ABDULLAH: It was very moving. I know that his late majesty had spent his life dedicated it, his work to peace and to having a better world, and to see that the reaction from the international community made it so much easier to bear the loss. But those that knew his majesty knew the magic that he had. And I don't think we were surprised, but we were very touched.

KING: Did you want to be king?

KING ABDULLAH: No.

KING: Didn't want to be king?

KING ABDULLAH: You know, it's not a job that one tries to go for. I felt that I wanted to be able to serve my father, my family. I had my career staked out in the armed forces. This is something that he wanted.

KING: You were military, right?

KING ABDULLAH: Military all my life, about 20 years, until the day his majesty passed away. And I knew my future. I'd carved a very comfortable niche, so to speak.

KING: Beautiful wife, children, nice house, family.

KING ABDULLAH: A great career. I was really enjoying myself. And I knew that I would serve his majesty, and I knew that I would play a big role in the future of Jordan. But in the back of my mind, it's not a job that one wants.

KING: So can you honestly say if someone else were selected -- brother, son, other son -- you would not have been disappointed?

KING ABDULLAH: Not at all. And I thought that my life was in such a way -- we had a special bond, my father and I, and he knew that I would only stand by him. I always grew up thinking that my father would be around forever, that I would be sort of his sword and his shield. I'd be, you know, his right side throughout the rest of my life. And that bond, he knew that I would pass that loyalty to whoever.

KING: As you know, we knew him well. Those are tough shoes, right, to fill?

KING ABDULLAH: Big shoes, very big shoes, but that's what keeps us motivated and focused. He left us such a legacy over 50 years of what he managed to do not only for our country, but for our region. and that place in the back of the mind, not only in my mind and members of the family, but Jordanians as a whole. I mean, are we going to let the 50 years that he gave to our country and our region go to waste? I don't think so.

KING: How did you learn you would be king?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, in the last several months, there were a lot of members of the family and notables in our society that would come up to me saying, you know, get ready, a lot is going to be expected of you. And I tried to keep out of that.

KING: Discounted it?

KING ABDULLAH: I discounted it, because until you hear it from your own father -- I was so used to people gossiping and trying to get into intrigue, I put it out of mind. We had a chance when my father was in Rochester in October. We had a long talk. We spent about three hours...

KING: At Mayo?

KING ABDULLAH: At Mayo, yes. And about three hours talking. And he turned around to me, and he said, you know, I feel sometimes that I've been very hard on you. I've put you in a very difficult career. I've never stepped in to help. But you've made me very proud, and I'm going to rely on you. That could have meant many things.

KING: He never said you would be king?

KING ABDULLAH: No, but he said that when we get back, you know, we need to do a lot of work. In my mind, I thought that, quite honestly, he would want me to be there to support whoever his candidate was for successor.

KING: So how were you told?

KING ABDULLAH: I was told -- he tried to get an opportunity to tell me several times. I was in England. Just before we came back from Mayo, we met up there for four or five days, and my father said, stay, I want to talk to you. And every day we were supposed to meet together somebody appeared and we weren't alone, and I eventually had to say to him, I have to get back, because I was responsible for the security, being in command of special operations for his return. And I have to go back and prepare for his welcome. And he said, all right, I'll see you when I get to Jordan. And so it wasn't until a couple of days after that, until he returned to Jordan, that he called me over.

KING: And said?

KING ABDULLAH: And said basically that I've had all my faith in you, you've always made me very, very proud, and I want to rewrite history. I want you to be the crown prince. This is something that you've deserved all your life, and I know that you will live up to my expectations.

KING: What was your first reaction?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, at that time, my father had digressed quite considerably. I had seen him three days before, and he looked OK. And within three days, he looked very ill. And so I didn't care what he was talking about, I just cared about his health. So I think the main shock was seeing him like that. And he said, you know, I'm sorry to put this to you in such a way, but I'm going to have to go back to the United States within 24 hours. And I think I was more worried about that.

KING: It sunk in later.

KING ABDULLAH: It sunk in later that he wanted to make me crown prince.

KING: Our guest is His Majesty King Abdullah, the king of Jordan. He's our guest for the full hour, and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with the king of Jordan, King Abdullah. They say people die as they live -- if you live a classy life, you die -- were you with him at death?

KING ABDULLAH: Yes, sir, I was. He was surrounded by all his children and his family, and it was just such an emotional period. But we were there with him when he finally slipped away.

KING: In a way, when you see someone deteriorate that way, there's also a little blessing in it going, isn't it?

KING ABDULLAH: Yes. I mean, he had left to the United States still in fairly good health, and obviously when he came back there was nothing else that could be done and the cancer had spread so rapidly. Every 18 hours it was doubling in its destructiveness, and there was a point where the doctors said, you know, it's your call now. There's nothing else that we can do. That was probably the toughest period of my life.

KING: Did he go into a coma?

KING ABDULLAH: In the last hours, yes, when the doctors said that...

KING: And then all the rumors -- your brother, rifts, your uncle -- any of it true?

KING ABDULLAH: No. You know, people, I think, wherever there is...

KING: Succession.

KING ABDULLAH: ... succession or power centers always like to get into... KING: Or families.

KING ABDULLAH: Or families. I mean, we have it even at any level. But...

KING: Go to the reading of a will.

KING ABDULLAH: Exactly. People like intrigue, and it was actually very sad. And I know it hurt his majesty very much leading up the months that he was in Mayo, having to look at certain magazines and newspaper articles that were coming out with all this very negative, destructive...

KING: Are you close with your brother?

KING ABDULLAH: Very close with all my brothers. It's remarkable, considering that my father married four times.

KING: You were the son of the second marriage.

KING ABDULLAH: Yes. To have brothers and sisters so close -- and again, that's the magic that I think his majesty had over all of us. We spent all our holidays together. Every moment on the weekends, we always -- we would honor the...

KING: Did any of them, to your knowledge, show any anger or bitterness of not being selected?

KING ABDULLAH: Not at all. Not at all.

KING: And how about your uncle, who's been on this show a number of times as well, and was rumored -- how is he doing?

KING ABDULLAH: He's doing such a wonderful job. He was such a dignified man throughout this whole things. He's not only my uncle, he was always a big brother to me. And he's been outstanding. Any adjustment is difficult, but he took it with the class and pride that I expected as a member of the Hashemite family.

KING: What's his role in the government?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, he's working now on -- he still has a lot of organizations, both nationally and a internationally. We're hoping that he will be accepted to the UNHCR, the United Nations High Council for Refugees, which he is extremely capable of doing and would be a terrific international post for Jordan.

KING: Before we get into issues, you attended school in the United States, right? Georgetown?

KING ABDULLAH: Deerfield Academy for high school and Georgetown for a fellowship.

KING: Your father's wish that you be educated here?

KING ABDULLAH: My father's wish was for me to go into the military and to follow in his footsteps, so I went to the British Military Academy in Sandhurst, joined the British army for about a year, and then...

KING: You were in the British army?

KING ABDULLAH: Yes. And I served in my army, too.

KING: Was Deerfield a military prep school?

KING ABDULLAH: No, it's a regular -- it's a prep school.

KING: Georgetown you majored in what?

KING ABDULLAH: In -- it was a fellowship in foreign service, so basically concentrating in Middle East politics.

KING: What was it like going to school in the states?

KING ABDULLAH: I loved it. The three happiest years that I ever spent was at Deerfield.

KING: You wrestled, too, didn't you?

KING ABDULLAH: I wrestled, did track.

KING: Were you a good wrestler?

KING ABDULLAH: A couple of New England championships. Yes, I'd like to think that I was.

KING: When people say that you're a very Americanized person, is that a compliment to you?

KING ABDULLAH: Absolutely. I think that I've had the ability to understand two different cultures, East and West, and so I understand how Americans feel about things and how they look at the world. And yet I have my culture and my heritage at the same time, and it's given me a great eye-opener.

KING: And of course Georgetown gives you a great knowledge of Washington.

KING ABDULLAH: Absolutely.

KING: It's right in the heart of things. Was that a good school to go to?

KING ABDULLAH: It was very good, but my mother and my brothers and my sisters went -- were living in Washington, my brothers and sisters going to school there, so I knew Washington fairly well because I used to go down on vacation on weekends to see them.

KING: How were you treated by classmates who knew that you were royalty? You were royalty.

KING ABDULLAH: But Americans really don't understand the extent of royalty, so that when you're in the states, if people look at you as royalty, the novelty wears off very, very quickly, within the first 24 hours. And then you're just a fellow student. And the nice thing about Deerfield is that everybody treated each other the same, and so nobody really ever took me being a prince. I was a Jordanian as far as they were concerned, and that was as far as...

KING: And you liked it that way?

KING ABDULLAH: Loved it, because it allowed me a chance to develop in a neutral atmosphere, to become a regular person, to have the insight that many people in my position might not get.

KING: Was your father able, during this time, to be a father as well as a king?

KING ABDULLAH: It was very difficult for him, because he had so much responsibilities. But on the holidays, we'd always spend time together. I traveled a lot with his majesty on many of the state visits around the world. He was always taking me with him. I spent a lot of quality time. At the same, I had a job. When I was in the armed forces, he expected me to pull my weight like everybody else.

KING: He wanted you to be army.

KING ABDULLAH: Yes.

KING: Did you want to be army?

KING ABDULLAH: Initially, no. I was a high school student. I wanted to go to an Ivy League college in the United States. And it was really the last year before graduation from high school when my father said, you know, I'd really like you to go to the military and follow my footsteps at Sandhurst. And I can tell, it was a great shock the first three weeks of being in the military academy. I remember running around the woods with a rifle and mud all over my face, knowing that all my classmates were in university enjoying weekends.

KING: What were you going to major in? Pre-law or something?

KING ABDULLAH: I was looking at, actually, international law.

KING: Was the British good training?

KING ABDULLAH: The British for basic training is probably one of the best institutions out there.

KING: You get discipline, right?

KING ABDULLAH: Great discipline. It's a pure military course. You don't come away with education. It's a tough course, and it pushes you to the limit. As an 18-year-old, they take you to the limit of your endurance.

KING: What did you like about it? KING ABDULLAH: The comraderie. Anybody who has served in the armed forces, there is this brotherhood of teamwork. There is a morale that you find in the armed forces you don't find any other sector of society.

KING: True or false -- and we've asked this of generals in America -- some say generals like war, because they've trained for it, they need it. Others say no one hates it more than generals. What was your view of action?

KING ABDULLAH: As a young officer, there's always the excitement of adventure and danger, but I think anybody will tell you that those that have been through it are pretty happy that they didn't have to have to be tested, and actually we learned the destructiveness of war having trained for it.

KING: No one knows war like a warrior, right?

KING ABDULLAH: Exactly, right.

KING: We'll be back with more of King Abdullah of Jordan on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE, the wind-up of our anniversary week, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In the funny American movie "History of the World," with Mel Brooks. In one of the scenes, he's a king, and he looks at the camera and says, it's good to be the king. What's it like?

KING ABDULLAH: We haven't gotten to that stage yet, and I hope we never do. I was thrown into the deep end. I mean, the tragic loss of his majesty was such a blow to all of us and to Jordan.

KING: And no time to mourn, right?

KING ABDULLAH: No time to mourn, so much to do. We had a country that had a terrible economic problem, the loss of a figurehead that kept us together for 50 years. We only saw as far as the next day, and that's basically what I can remember the first couple of months, just a day at a time.

KING: What's it like now?

KING ABDULLAH: Now people are coming together. I think the first six or seven months was just to consolidate, to reassure people, and then the next phase was really to sort of identify where the weaknesses are, and now we're in the process of adjusting to change and getting into it.

KING: What -- nothing's perfect. What don't you like about being king?

KING ABDULLAH: The tremendous pressure and responsibility that I used to see my father having to put up with. Big problems, small problems, they all figure his majesty would solve them. What we're trying to do now is create an atmosphere where the institutions can really take over and carry their own weight, if we are to become the modern Jordan that we want it to be.

KING: Did you -- two years, even though royalty, you would drive around the United States in a rented car with a family and stop at a motel maybe. You also like to do things like that as king, true? You wear a disguise, go out in the street?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, I think because I spent all my life with the freedoms that I enjoyed as an individual are no longer there. It's nice to be able to get back out.

KING: What do you do with yourself?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, basically, in Jordan, we've been using that to go to areas that are obstacles to our economic program, just to get the message to the members of the government or the civil service.

KING: Do you wear a beard or...

KING ABDULLAH: A beard, a wig, different clothes.

KING: How does the security people feel about it?

KING ABDULLAH: Ours are pretty excited. They get into it, too, because what happens...

KING: They go with you, pretending to be something, too.

KING ABDULLAH: Yes, and usually what happens, if I hear of a crisis in a certain area, I send people ahead of me a day or two beforehand to write a report. And then I confirm whether or not I actually need to go to this place.

And then when we go, a lot of the security come with me, and they also take notes from what they see. We compile the reports after my visit, and the reports go to the government.

KING: Of course, you can lose touch in a monarchy or a presidency or any head of state.

KING ABDULLAH: This is the No. 1 fear that I had, because I grew up watching people around my father. And there are those that would like to tell you what they think you want to hear or try to keep the problems away from you. And my father used to rely on his children to be able to come in and say, look, this is not the situation, this is the actual facts. And I think the greatest fear I have, as time goes on, you can very easily become isolated.

KING: Anybody spotted you?

KING ABDULLAH: On two occasions. We go out every month and a half roughly. On two occasions. Once, they see a TV camera -- we tried this reporter thing twice. Once they see the camera, they start to look around.

KING: And then they bow, and it's Your Highness.

KING ABDULLAH: Well, no. The second time, people could see. They weren't too sure, but they kind of figured. We just beat a hasty retreat and just left the scene.

KING: And you also -- I guess, is there anything down about having a beautiful wife?

KING ABDULLAH: Not at all.

KING: Not at all. I'm in the same situation. Married out of our league. Your wife is Palestinian.

KING ABDULLAH: Yes, sir.

KING: Is that a help in international...

KING ABDULLAH: I think it's a help for the future of Jordan. As we look at the future, we are a product of Jordanian origin, and as a Jordanian of Palestinian origin. And my children are the future, a mixture of Jordanian and Palestinian. This is the type of nation that we're going to embark on.

KING: Think they'll be a day when one of your children might marry an Israeli?

KING ABDULLAH: Anything is possible. Yes. You know, you look at our part of world now, and when we talk about peace and stability, we're talking about people breaking down barriers, and this is what his late majesty always wanted.

KING: Which your father forged.

KING ABDULLAH: Yes.

KING: We'll be back with King Abdullah of Jordan after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with His Majesty King Abdullah, the King of Jordan. So much still to talk about.

Your wife is expecting your third child.

KING ABDULLAH: Yes, end of September.

KING: How far along is she?

KING ABDULLAH: She'll be due around the 20th of September.

KING: Anxious?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, we're all anxious and nervous as parents can be.

KING: Are the other siblings anxious? KING ABDULLAH: Excited. My daughter is particularly excited.

KING: She's how old?

KING ABDULLAH: She's 3 1/2.

KING: Oh, this is big, right? Going to have a little -- do you know what it is yet? Brother or...

KING ABDULLAH: No, we don't.

KING: Don't want to know?

KING ABDULLAH: I like to be surprised, and I'm happy with whatever, as long as it's a healthy child.

KING: I guess your wife is the youngest queen in the world, right?

KING ABDULLAH: I guess so.

KING: How old is she?

KING ABDULLAH: She is 30.

KING: That's young.

Did -- about you, and her and Queen Noor, any of that true, the stories sorry of rifts?

KING ABDULLAH: No, and again...

KING: Because your stepmother has been on this show quite a bit. She's American as well.

KING ABDULLAH: Yes, several times, yes. Again, people like to create problems and try to look for any chinks in people's armor as to try and create a problem. But luckily, you know, his late majesty always taught us to be above that. You're going to get rumors. You're going to get people who try to creating difficulties, but...

KING: How would you describe the relationship?

KING ABDULLAH: Very good. She's doing terrific work at the moment, and she obviously has a lot of responsibility with her children. She's up looking after my two sisters at the moment, who are just about to go into exams for high school.

KING: Your wife has also been outspoken for women's rights in a country that is not famous for women's rights -- your country? How are you doing?

KING ABDULLAH: We're doing very well, and I know that Jordan sort of appears a lot of times on women's rights. There's a lot more that we can do. His late majesty started the process on defending women's rights. I think why Jordan and other countries such as Pakistan come up in the news more often than others is because we're actually talking about the problems. I think...

KING: But there had to be problems to talk about.

KING ABDULLAH: Well, in any society -- I mean, there's a lot of taboos that were in the United States in the past several years, where there was spouse abuse or neglect of some sort that you only started talking about recently. Well, in Jordan, we're talking about these issues, and I think that's healthy. The problems are all over the third world, but countries such as Jordan and Pakistan are actually talking them. That's half the battle.

KING: Do you like your wife speaking out?

KING ABDULLAH: I think it's very healthy. We understand the way the world is going, and we have modernize. And these are issues -- support and protection for rights of women and children is a must and something that we need to move on.

KING: You describe letter as your partner, is that correct? Is that a correct quote?

KING ABDULLAH: A partner and a friend.

KING: Very important.

KING ABDULLAH: Very important, simply, again, because we were both into this...

KING: Yes, how does she like it?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, she didn't sign on to find herself in a position like this, and I'm just so amazed she's been able to shoulder the responsibilities, not only having to look after me, create her own career, and also look after the children. There's a lot of pressure on her, and she's been outstanding.

KING: You know, if all things go well healthwise and with all the improvements in modern medicine, you're going to be there a long time, you and the wife. You think about that?

KING ABDULLAH: You know, we -- it sounds funny, but since the passing of his majesty, I still feel that we're in this temporarily, you know. I...

KING: You're kidding.

KING ABDULLAH: You feel that -- I still have dreams that, you know...

KING: He's going to walk in the room.

KING ABDULLAH: My father is in my dreams, you know, that he hasn't actually left, and so I think it will take a while until I feel that this is forever.

KING: Do you still feel there's someone on your shoulder? KING ABDULLAH: No, I just feel that I'm holding the fort until my father comes back.

You know, when he was sick in Mayo for six months, we were all in Jordan trying to keep people calm, and basically, as I said, hold the fort while he was away. And in the back of my mind, I still have that feeling that I wish to God he was still here and being able to...

KING: That's probably good?

KING ABDULLAH: I hope so.

KING: To feel ties to yesterday.

KING ABDULLAH: An again, you know, he set the standards, and so you think about him all the time.

KING: We'll talk about the Middle East, Jordan and where they go from here, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Back with King Abdullah of Jordan. The problem is economy, right?

KING ABDULLAH: Yes, sir.

KING: What went wrong?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, in the '80s, we were promised a lot of financial aids from many countries, and so we started our programs. And as we started them, the money did not arrive. So...

KING: They topped out?

KING ABDULLAH: ... it didn't come through. For whatever reasons, the money didn't reach us, and so...

KING: Was this one of the countries?

KING ABDULLAH: No, the United States has been very supportive, and actually we have no debt with the United States. So we're very grateful to the American government for clearing the debt.

KING: So you have made plans for which...

KING ABDULLAH: For which...

KING: ... jobs didn't occur?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, basically, we went on ambitious building programs, both government and military. And so we purchased equipment, we purchased -- or started the projects. The money didn't get to the bank, and, therefore, we had debts that we couldn't pay off.

KING: What do you do?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, it's a long, uphill struggle. And we're working with the IMF and the World Back to get ourselves back on our own two feet. The past year and a half, we've been given top grades from them for what we've been able to do, and they call us a model country of trying to get ourselves back on our own two feet.

KING: Not third world.

KING ABDULLAH: Exactly. We've been very, very responsible. We've shocked everybody, I think, in what we've managed to do in the past year and a half. We're the only country to join the World Trade Organization -- it took us 11 months. People said it couldn't be done, and we did it. And I think that shows how serious we are about getting ourselves on our own two feet.

KING: Is the bank responsive to you?

KING ABDULLAH: The international community is very responsive because we've shown ourselves to be responsible. And I don't want to be in a position that we continue to be a burden on the international community. We have to get ourselves on our own two feet, and we will in the next couple years. And it's our turn then to give to others.

KING: So, therefore, do you try to get investors, Americans, American companies, to come in?

KING ABDULLAH: Yes. We're in a unique situation in Jordan where both sides can benefit. We have free trade with the European Union, we have free trade with many Arab countries. we have what we call "qualified industrial zones" in Jordan that allows pretty much free trade into the United States. So there's tremendous opportunities for investing in Jordan.

KING: The sanctions on Iraq hurt you, right? Because that's a major trade partner.

KING ABDULLAH: Tremendously, and it was one of the biggest shocks to our economy and to industry. I mean, we have a vibrant middle class that's suffered greatly from this.

KING: Do you want the president to remove them?

KING ABDULLAH: I think, sir, that the removal of sanctions is a healthy thing. All that we see the sanctions do is create more suffering for the Iraqi people.

KING: You're in a difficult position here, right? You're very friendly with President Clinton and the American people, you're educated in America, you know the feelings in the United States toward Hussein and Iraq, and your father had to deal with this balancing and you have to deal with it. Is that a tightwire?

KING ABDULLAH: Not really. I think people understand the Jordanian position. And, you know, his late majesty always wanted to have open arms to everybody. And this is a policy that will be continued. We want to be friends with everybody...

KING: It's hard, though.

KING ABDULLAH: ... We don't want to get involved in other people's problems.

KING: Isn't that hard?

KING ABDULLAH: Not as hard as I thought it would be. Jordan enjoys relations with everybody in the Middle East and further afield, and we've been able to have this great balance.

KING: Have you met with Saddam Hussein?

KING ABDULLAH: No, sir.

KING: Do you want to?

KING ABDULLAH: I haven't -- well, I'll go back. I met him in the '80s.

KING: I mean, but now as king.

KING ABDULLAH: Well, if we can defuse the problem...

KING: You've done it in other areas...

KING ABDULLAH: Yes.

KING: ... brought people together.

KING ABDULLAH: It needs both sides to want a third party to be able to do that. And obviously if we can assist in bringing stability and relief to the area we will do that.

KING: How would you describe today the relationship between Jordan and Israel?

KING ABDULLAH: Very, very positive, very, very well. I have a very good, strong relationship with the prime minister. We're in contact on a regular basis. We...

KING: Two military men.

KING ABDULLAH: Two military men, we hit it off right away. We understand the problems of the area, and we've been working to try and solve the problems of the Middle East.

KING: That -- that could be economically beneficial to you, right?

KING ABDULLAH: To all of us. It's not just Jordan. I mean, this is the problem when we talk with some of our Israeli colleagues is that, do you want to live in a fortress mentality or do you want to have peace with your neighbors so that there can be an economic boom in our part of the world? And I think people are sick of having to leave their doors, walk out of their houses with a weapon in their hands because they fear for their safety and the safety of their families. Is that the type of Middle East that we want to continue to live in? I don't think so.

KING: These are -- the whole Middle East, these are very bright people.

KING ABDULLAH: Yes.

KING: No illiteracy, right? They're very in touch. And some have said, if all of you were together, what a force you would be in the world. You'd be the their most powerful force in the world as an entity.

KING ABDULLAH: Exactly. If you look at the high-talented work force, Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians, those countries coming together, with the quality that we have there, my god, we could make miracles.

KING: Is it possible?

KING ABDULLAH: It is possible, and it is possible and soon. We have two tracks to -- or three tracks to solve with the Israelis, obviously the Palestinians being the core issue. And we really can't have true peace until the Israelis and Palestinians sort out their difficulties. But both the Syrian and Lebanese tracks could be very quickly solved, and that is a great stepping stone in the right direction.

KING: I want to ask you about Syria and the Israeli pull-out of Lebanon right after this.

We'll be back with King Abdullah of Jordan.

Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In leaving Lebanon, in moves he's made recently, is Barak on the right road?

KING ABDULLAH: I believe so. I think that the withdrawal of the Israelis from southern Lebanon has really taken our friends to the higher moral ground. And over the past two weeks, nothing has happened. The borders have been safe and secure. So I think we need to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, and I think it's a good message.

KING: People want to live, right?

KING ABDULLAH: They want to live. They want to move on with their lives. We have had a crisis that has really spoiled our lives the past half a century. And with the change and the turning of a new millennium, people are just tired of our history. They want to move and survive.

KING: What do you see as America's role in this region?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, America is in a tremendously unique position, one that I've never seen before, where you have in your president respect from Barak, Arafat and President Assad.

KING: Assad, too? Like...

KING ABDULLAH: Assad, yes. And so you have a president that enjoys the confidence of the three players. And I've never seen that before. And I think that the president can bring people together and can solve this problem. But he needs the support of his people around him and those in our region.

KING: And, as a democracy, that's not always easy.

KING ABDULLAH: Not easy.

KING: Assad is not a well man. You know his son very well, do you not?

KING ABDULLAH: I know both of them. I was in Syria last week, and I had the great pleasure of spending several hours with the president and...

KING: How is he doing?

KING ABDULLAH: He's doing very well. He's in good health, very astute, very, very smart, very bright man who wants to have peace with Israel.

KING: No doubt of that in your mind?

KING ABDULLAH: Not doubt of that in my mind.

KING: Because, as you know, he's painted in a lot of the West as, if not a terrorist, a harborer of terrorists, a man who likes the violent answer.

KING ABDULLAH: Well, I -- again, I think that's an unfair portrayal. I mean, there has been war and conflict in our part of the world for almost 50 years. These are players that want to put the past behind them. And Assad is definitely keen to have peace for his country. His son, Bashar is a very bright young man.

KING: Yes, tell me about him. Is he your age?

KING ABDULLAH: He's 35. He's two or three years younger than I am. We spent four or five hours driving around northern Syria. He was showing me where he came from -- and a beautiful part of the country. And we had five hours to sit in a car, just him and I, driving around the countryside talking.

KING: Is he far-reaching?

KING ABDULLAH: Very much so. He understand the need for his country to have a stronger economy, to open up to the world, a man with great capabilities and great foresight -- very impressed with him, and I think we're are going to expect a lot of amazing things from him, I hope.

KING: Do you see a lot of young, emerging leaders in the region? Arafat is up in age. Who's around there?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, again, if you look at our part of the world, the three countries that had tragic losses last year, Bahrain, Morocco and Jordan. And so you've got a new leadership in those three countries, those that have had daily contacts with the West, that understands the way their countries need to go. And we're at a crossroads now, these three young countries with a lot of open ideas and willingness to change, and we're asking our friends to, you know, help us. Let us succeed, let us be a model and a symbol for others. And if you could -- Bashar, god willing, again, a fourth country with a young, dynamic heir.

KING: Do you think the chances of war in the region are minimal? I don't want to put words in your mouth.

KING ABDULLAH: They get less and less, because the international community doesn't allow it anymore. We...

KING: Too ready to...

KING ABDULLAH: Exactly, to step in. We've seen that in Kosovo, we've seen that in other parts of the world. What we can't stop is immediate conflicts or strikes. And this is our concern as we go into the summer, that we want our region to be very quiet, especially with what's going on in Lebanon.

KING: Is it tough to be small? You know, like at the U.N., do you still like a still, small voice?

KING ABDULLAH: Well...

KING: I mean, you know, you're not Russia, you're not China, you're not the United States. You're Jordan.

KING ABDULLAH: There's a saying coming out of Jordan now. We've started a campaign. Jordan: small country, big ideas. And I think that describes us very well. I remember being a student in the United States, people saying, where do you come from? Jordan. Don't know where Jordan is. King Hussein. Oh, OK, I know what you're talking about. So Jordan became much larger than it should have been because of his majesty. And that's something that we've been able to grow and build on.

KING: So you don't look at yourself as small? I mean, realistically, you know geographically you're small?

KING ABDULLAH: Yes, but, you know, if we want to get into the global age, it's going to be much easier for a small country, if we look at Singapore, if we look at the United Arab Emirates, if we look at Bahrain. Small countries can get the educational system upgraded much quicker and they can get into the global society much quicker. We have just taken a very ambitious program where English will be taught in grade one all across the nation within two years, computer skills at grade two all across the country in two years.

KING: And if you're fortunate enough not to lose your young in war...

KING ABDULLAH: Exactly.

KING: We'll be right back with more King Abdullah.

Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING ABDULLAH: The main thing is to thank the overwhelming support that the president has shown Jordan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Why is President Clinton, who, as you know, in the United States people either love or hate -- there's a tremendous both-way relationship with him -- so popular out of this country?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, because he has been very strong on international policies. He's followed through. He has won over the hearts of many leaders across the world.

KING: Is he popular throughout Jordan?

KING ABDULLAH: Yes, absolutely. And my father and him hit it off right away. And he's had the ability -- he's a very charismatic man, a very intelligent man -- and he's had the ability to win over, as I said, the prime minister of Israel, the Palestinians and Syria.

KING: You'll not get involved in American elections, naturally. I know you know Vice President Gore...

KING ABDULLAH: Yes, sir.

KING: Do you know Governor Bush?

KING ABDULLAH: We've talked on the phone, and I obviously knew his father.

KING: Will you plan to meet with him, too? Usually when candidates run here, they meet with foreign leaders.

KING ABDULLAH: I don't know. We've talked several times on the phone over the past year or so, simply because of the friendship between his father and my father.

KING: Would you think that he were elected the situation would be just as good for Jordan? KING ABDULLAH: Well, you have an interesting situation where you have the vice president, who has been in that position for eight years, who knows a lot of the major players in the international community, and, therefore, people know him. And that's one of the problems we have with elections in the United States. If you have a new president...

KING: The known and the unknown.

KING ABDULLAH: The foreign policy you don't know the first two years. And then you have the last two years to try and get to know him, but then he wants to get re-elected again. So it's very difficult for the international community. When you have a two-term president, it's much easier for us because the second term he's relaxed. He knows what -- he knows everybody and you can deal with that. So that's a potential plus for the vice president. But also, George Bush, through his father, also knows a lot of people. So either way, I think, on foreign policy which is what is important to us...

KING: You liked his father?

KING ABDULLAH: I liked his father very well, yes.

KING: Freedom of press in Jordan...

KING ABDULLAH: Yes, sir.

KING: Is it -- is there freedom of press?

KING ABDULLAH: There is.

KING: Can anybody say anything?

KING ABDULLAH: You occasionally get people who always want to see how far they can push the envelope. When you look at freedom of the press in Jordan and you consider all the Arab countries, we are way ahead. Is it as much as we want? No, but I...

KING: But one step here is lacking. In the United States, you can push the envelope, I guess, beyond...

KING ABDULLAH: Well -- but we are...

KING: Not fire in the theater, but...

KING ABDULLAH: Yes, we are pushing the envelope now. I mean, every year a new article comes into the parliament to be able to give more press freedoms. I think that we've come a long way. But I'm not comparing myself to the people in our part of the world, I'm comparing myself and what's going on in Jordan with the West, Europe.

KING: You went to school here and you know, I guess, the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights is our most important amendment.

KING ABDULLAH: And this is the reason. I mean, I don't want to compete with people in my part of the world. I want to start competing with you.

KING: Can a radio station in Jordan criticize you?

KING ABDULLAH: At this stage, it's only the government radio station. What I want to do and I've been pushing for is the privatiziation of broadcasting in Jordan and the privatization of the newspapers, because we have two or three newspapers in Jordan that I consider to be government. The majority shares are owned by people who have vested interests and support from outside.

Jordan is a unique country, where a lot of the press get their orders and their finance from countries around us. And, therefore, internally, we always have a very difficult problem of people trying to create...

KING: Because a critical press is healthy for a leader, I think.

KING ABDULLAH: It's healthy, but there's a point where certain members of our press corps try to create prejudices against people, north against south, Christian against Muslim, Palestinian against Jordanian. And these are supported by agencies outside Jordan. This is something I don't tolerate. But press freedom, yes, if it's responsible and if it helps build the country. But we will push that envelope.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with King Abdullah, king of Jordan, here in Atlanta after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with our remaining moments with King Abdullah.

We hope this is the first of many visits. Maybe one night we'll come over and we'll do all the leaders of the region together as your father did with us one night, with Rabin and Arafat together in a historic night of television.

The Palestinian population in Jordan...

KING ABDULLAH: Yes, sir.

KING: ... disenfranchised?

KING ABDULLAH: Not at all. I mean, obviously as we move into the peace process, into the final settlement between Israelis and Palestinians, you're going to get those that want to create diversions and confusion to shift attention away. Jordan, through his late majesty, is one country, one people. We have Jordanians of Jordanian origin, Jordanians of Palestinian origin. And he always called us one family. And I think as we talked earlier on, about my wife and I and our children, I think we're the product of his late majesty's vision.

KING: A few other things: Are there days you wish you weren't king?

KING ABDULLAH: Yes. KING: I hope this is not one of those moments. Like when?

KING ABDULLAH: There is -- when I was a soldier, things were much more clear cut. There were no gray areas. You knew who your friends were, and you knew who your enemies were. In this position, there's a lot of gray areas. You're trying to do the right thing for the country. You've got a lot of people with their own personal agendas, people who are willing to take their personal agendas and even take the country down just so they can get one step ahead, those in the political circles, I think...

KING: More interested in self than in...

KING ABDULLAH: Exactly. And that's just difficult to try and identify where people -- I mean, majority of people are loyal to the country and want to move the country forward. But there are those out there that just want a future for themselves.

KING: Your father was famous for bringing disparate groups together.

KING ABDULLAH: Yes.

KING: Is that your forte? Is that what you want to do, too?

KING ABDULLAH: I don't believe in being a middleman. When we worked with Syria and Israel, we just took the messages of good faith from Syria to the United States and to the Israelis, that the Syrians truly wanted to have peace. People thought that we were naive, that this was not the case. We proved that it was. Once the message was delivered, we took a step back. I don't think -- you know, you try and bring two people together and then take a step back. If they need you again, then they should call and let you know. And I think this is how we would like to work. If we can be of help, fine. But we don't want to get involved in other people's businesses.

KING: What's your biggest worry?

KING ABDULLAH: I have no real worries. The only major problem in the Middle East or in our country is the economy. I know we're going to get there.

KING: Your optimistic?

KING ABDULLAH: I'm very optimistic. And what we've been able to do in the past year and a half and what we're going to do this year and next year I think is going to shock a lot of people. It's not so much worry as it is frustration. I'm an impatient person by nature. I want...

KING: More than your father?

KING ABDULLAH: Yes. I've -- you know, I've learned -- you know, my father, with years of experience, his impatience, I think, led to experience.

KING: Mellowed?

KING ABDULLAH: He mellowed. He understood the problems and maybe took things, you know, with a -- counted to 10. I'm still -- I want everything done yesterday.

KING: One think about you among many that's extraordinary is some people would feel, enough of my father already. Let's talk about me. You know, he isn't here. You're not that way at all.

KING ABDULLAH: Not at all.

KING: Even though you carry that mantel around with you, so when people see you, the first thing they think of is King Hussein.

KING ABDULLAH: What a greater person then to have as a mantel? I mean, he was my life and our -- my inspiration. I mean, he was my father. He was also my king. And those who know his majesty and know Jordan realize the difference of a leader like that, that he was the king, he was a father to all of us. And he's somebody I looked up to all my life.

KING: So in no way is that to you a burden?

KING ABDULLAH: No, and again, you know, when his majesty first passed away, there was a lot of criticisms about his decision to make me king after him. The driving force behind me is to show people that even in his -- with his breath, he had the foresight and he made the right decision. And I want to prove my father right.

KING: And are there days you want to get in a car again and, say, drive across Kansas?

KING ABDULLAH: I miss those days. My brother is just going to a course next month in California that I was two years ago. And he's going to rent a car and rent an apartment and do the cooking and the laundry. I wish that that part of my life was still there.

KING: You're a credit to your dad.

KING ABDULLAH: Thank you, sir.

KING: King Abdullah of Jordan.

That winds up this week, our 20th anniversary, the 15th anniversary of LARRY KING LIVE.

We'll be back doing it again Monday night with Calvin Klein.

Thanks for joining us. Good night.

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