Jordan's King Sees Hope for Iran Talks
Abdullah to Meet With Bush Today
Thursday, September 18, 2003
Jordan's King Abdullah, who visited Iran earlier this month and is scheduled to meet with President Bush at Camp David today, said yesterday that "there is common grounds for dialogue" between the United States and Iran on the situation in Iraq and that Iranian leaders are eager to settle a fierce dispute over its nuclear program.
Abdullah stressed that he was not carrying any messages from Iranian leaders to Bush, but would merely give his impressions to the president and his senior advisers.
"It's up to them to see if they feel there is enough there to follow up," Abdullah said in a wide-ranging interview with Washington Post editors and reporters. "I would hope that they would. My impression was that there's enough common ground, as I said, to [approve] maybe a shift in policy, but that's a decision that [Bush is] going to make."
Bush last year named Iran as part of an "axis of evil" that included North Korea and the former government of Iraq. But the administration has been deeply split over policy toward the Islamic republic, with some State Department officials pressing for a thaw in relations, only to meet stiff resistance from Pentagon and White House officials.
Since the war with Iraq, relations with Iran have soured further over continuing revelations about its nuclear program and allegations that it harbors al Qaeda leaders implicated in the bombings May 13 of residential compounds in Saudi Arabia. U.S. officials had conducted several private talks with Iranian officials, primarily to discuss Iraq and Afghanistan, but U.S. officials suspended those talks after the bombings in May.
Iran has signaled through various channels that it is eager to resume discussions with the United States over Iraq, apparently modeled on talks held after the war against Afghanistan. Iranian diplomats, including Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, have publicly supported greater dialogue between Iran and the United States on how best to stabilize Iraq.
Regarding the breakdown in the Middle East peace process, Abdullah said that "all of us are extremely frustrated and, to an extent, confused." He faulted the Israelis for not being more supportive of recently resigned Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, saying, "They could have made his life a bit easier, and . . . now we're back to the drawing board."
Abdullah, who last year first floated the idea of crafting a "road map" that would guide the peace process, also suggested that the U.S. effort to monitor the road map had been too quiet, and that there was now a need for a more public accounting of what each side needs to do. "We need a stronger international mechanism . . . so that everybody knows where people are deficient," he said.
On another issue, Abdullah said there had been no discussions of settling a Jordanian bank fraud case against Ahmed Chalabi, a favorite of the Pentagon who has emerged as a power broker in postwar Iraq. "It is a major issue, and it is a problem," Abdullah said, adding that it would need to be addressed if Chalabi "becomes an Iraqi official of some standing."
Regarding Iran and its nuclear program, the Bush administration recently persuaded the International Atomic Energy Agency to set an Oct. 31 deadline for Iran to cooperate with an investigation. The Bush administration contends the program is a front for a nuclear weapons project. Iran vehemently denies it is making nuclear weapons, and its delegation stormed out of the IAEA session when the resolution was adopted last week.
Abdullah said he spent a lot of time speaking to the Iranians about their nuclear program during his two-day visit. "I could feel that this was on top of their minds," he said. "They want to deal with the international community and put this behind them as quickly as possible in a positive way."
Abdullah noted that Jordan has had problems with the Iranians sponsoring terrorist attacks against American, Israeli and British citizens, but based on his conversations with the various religious and political power centers in Iran, "their use of Jordan for terrorism is now no longer an issue," he said. He said the visit, the first by a Jordanian ruler since Iran's 1979 revolution, was a "very pleasant surprise" and offered "a lot of hope."
Abdullah said the Iranians are "the smartest people out in the Middle East at reading the political maps. And they have a long-term attitude; their policy is not five or 10 years, it's 50." He added that they are particularly concerned "that the growing instability of Iraq could fan out and hurt everybody."
Abdullah declined to discuss whether the Iranians addressed Bush administration allegations that they have harbored al Qaeda operatives. "We'll see what comes out of [the Camp David discussions] and then maybe afterwards we can get into that," he said. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A27109-2003Sep17.html