July 18th, 2012

King Abdullah II of Jordan: There is a presence of Al Qaeda in certain regions inside Syria

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer had an in-depth conversation with King Abdullah II of Jordan about Civil War in Syria, the threat of al Qaeda in Syria, for his thoughts on American politics and much more.  King Abdullah told Blitzer that al Qaeda is in Syria, “Our information is that there is a presence of Al Qaeda in certain regions inside Syria; has been there for a while.” He added that we can’t afford “chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands.” This full interview will air today on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on CNN in the 5 p.m. ET hour and on CNN International. Highlights from the interview are after the jump and a full transcript will be posted on http://archives.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/sitroom.html.

Program Note: Today in the 4 p.m. ET hour of The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, Blitzer will interview Israeli Amb. to the U.S. Michael Oren. Tomorrow Blitzer is scheduled to sit down with House Speaker John Boehner to discuss a range of political and congressional issues.

EMBEDDABLE VIDEO: Potential Civil War: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2012/07/18/tsr-abdullah-last-chance.cnn

EMBEDDABLE VIDEO: Chemical Weapons: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2012/07/18/tsr-abdullah-chemical-weapons.cnn

Please credit all usage of the information to CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf BlitzerHighlights from the Full Interview

On Bashar al-Assad

BLITZER: Because some people say, you know, Bashar al-Assad should see the handwriting on the wall. Look what happened in Libya to Gadhafi, for example; look what happened in Egypt to President Mubarak. Should he, in your opinion, be allowed to leave Syria right now, get sanct, let’s say in Iran or Russia or some place else? Or as the rebels would, would you prefer he be tried for war crimes, for example?

ABDULLAH: Well, I think there’s — the argument out there is what brings the violence down? There is a counterargument in the international community. I mean, what we’d like to see is a cessation of violence as quickly as possible. So if you can bring peace as quickly as possible and create a political transition, that’s the lesser of all evils, I guess, is what we’re trying to say.

You know, if Bashar leaving the scene and exiting Syria brings a stop to the violence and creates a political transition, that’s the lesser of all evils. But have we gotten past that stage? That’s a question I can’t answer.

And, again, I just want to look to the point that if Bashar leaves, does that solve the problem? Whoever comes in his place, is he or the people around him willing to create a political set of circumstances that allows for the political transition that we’re talking about?

So it’s not so much the individual; it’s the system that we’re talking about. And can the system allow for the political transition? And that’s where I have my doubts.

On Civil War in Syria

BLITZER: If he’s watching this interview right now — and he might be watching in Damascus, because this interview is being seen around the world, what would you say to him? What would you like to say directly to the Syrian leader?

ABDULLAH: Well, I believe that we’re getting to the point — I’m looking at it from the point of view of the mosaic of the Syrian people. I’m seeing, for the first time, have been watching this for the past 2-3 weeks, where the sectarian violence has begin to appear to a point where different groups of Syrian society is having a go at each other to a point where we are getting to the level of the potential of full-out civil war.

In other words, it’s getting very, very messy, to a point where I think the worst-case scenario for all of us in the region is when you get full-out civil war, there is no coming back from the abyss. Syria’s far more complicated than Iraq and other countries in the area.

The different minorities, actually, put them all together, they make the majority, is unlike any of the other countries in the Levant, in the Arab Peninsula. If it breaks down, if civil order breaks down to the point of no return, then it’ll take years to fix Syria.

And I have a feeling that we’re seeing the signs of that over the past three weeks. The only people that can bring us back from that brink is, obviously, the president and the regime. And I believe this is the last chance that they have

Chemical Weapons and Al Qaeda in Syria

BLITZER: Well, the last chance that they have, one very, very serious complicating issue, as you well know — and you’re right in the neighborhood over there — chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria.

The Defense secretary, Leon Panetta, other U.S. officials say they are deeply concerned about the poison gas, the Sarin gas, other nerve agents that may have been stockpiled in various locations in Syria. How worried is Jordan about this?

ABDULLAH: You will see that I think all the countries in the region and the international community have been looking at the weapons of what we call mass destruction, the chemical and biological weapons as elements of tremendous concern, not just recently, but since the beginning of the conflict.

And the Syrian regime knows that all of us in the region have been looking at those stockpiles. I know that there’s been discussions, that there’s concern that the Syrian regime would use that.

I think they know that they’ll be an immediate kneejerk reaction from all of us in the neighborhood, including the international community, if the Syrian regime would make the mistake of using those chemical weapons, simply because we can’t afford the use of those chemical weapons, obviously on the Syrian people, but also the chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands.

So I would be very, very surprised — I mean, that would be a tremendous miscalculation on the Syrian regime if they were to use that and would elicit an immediate reaction from all of us in the region and the international community.

BLITZER: When you say an immediate reaction, I know in the past, Your Majesty, you’ve opposed outside military intervention in Syria. But if there were indications that these chemical weapons stockpiles were about to be used, would you change your mind? Would you support outside military intervention?

ABDULLAH: Well, I think when you’re looking at some of the discussions that are happening at the United Nations, use of chemical weapons being used on his own people, obviously will elicit an international reaction against Syria. And I think it will be very difficult for the Russians and others not — or to oppose such a decision.

However, even more of concern, if those weapons were to fall into hands of opposition — and we’re not too sure who those opposition would be — then I don’t think anybody could afford those type of weapons to fall into unknown hands. Then, again, there would be some very quick meetings within members of the international community and then people, I think, would be looking at crossing borders.

BLITZER: Crossing borders; so that would justify that kind of — that would be a gamechanger, basically, is what you’re saying, if the Syrians were to engage or if, for example, some of those chemical weapons were about to get into the hands of Al Qaeda elements or other terrorist elements along those lines, because as you know, there have been some suggestions that Al Qaeda has some sort of presence in Syria right now.

ABDULLAH: Our information is that there is a presence of Al Qaeda in certain regions inside Syria; has been there for a while. And, again, one of the worst-case scenarios, as we are obviously trying to look for political solutions, would be that if some of those chemical stockpiles were to fall into unfriendly hands.

On 2012 Politics: Obama vs. Romney

BLITZER: We’re out of time, Your Majesty, but one final question, sort of on American politics a little bit. The Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, as you know, he’s going to be going to Israel to meet with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. I think he’s going to be meeting with the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Salam Fayyad, as well.

What would you, as a country that’s been so intimately involved in the Middle East peace process, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process over the years, a country that has a full peace treaty, a diplomatic relationship with Israel for so many years, what would you hope that Mitt Romney leaves the region with? What impression?

ABDULLAH: Well, he came to visit me, I think almost a year ago, and we had a discussion about the challenges of the peace process. He understands that with Arab Spring and all the challenges that we have, that the core issue of the Middle East still is the peace process, the two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I presume that his visit to Israel and to meet with both the Israeli and Palestinian counterparts will be to bring him up to speed on the ongoing negotiation between the Israelis and Palestinians. And in that fact, I will just add that these Israelis and Palestinians, discussions are still ongoing.

The peace discussions, so to speak, are not dead. Our job is to keep the process alive until the end of this year, when American elections are finalized. And depending on who wins, as of the two candidates, then that puts us into a better position to understand how to move the process forward at the beginning of next year.

BLITZER: Do you see any significant difference between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama as far as the peace process is concerned?

ABDULLAH: Well, obviously, there’s always going to be a different between a second term president and a first term president in dealing with this core issue. A second term president is going to be in a much more comfortable position in dealing with the Middle East peace process.

Obviously, a first term president will tend to be less willing to take on such a difficult issue, at least in the first two years of his presidency. That’s something that we have been used to for so many decades.

But, again, the presidential candidate is fully aware of the issues. We have exchanged our views a year ago and whoever it is that becomes president, I’m sure both of them fully understands that whatever is happening in the Middle East, the core issue still is that of the two-state solution and the challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian people.