Day 1: Thursday, 18 November 2004
Eason Jordan (Chief News Executive CNN): Thank you and good morning. In the Middle East these are extraordinary times. The war in Iraq. The death of Yasser Arafat. In Iraq, the Palestinian territories and in Israel there is suffering, anxiety and new hope. Also in the region there is an increasingly powerful force at work, an aggressive and influential Arabic language news media. TV networks such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya are revolutionising the way that Arabs get their news. Those TV networks have at times sparked controversy infuriating Arab and western governments alike. Joining us now is a Middle East leader with a unique and important perspective on these issues: the King of Jordan, His Majesty King Abdullah. Your Majesty, thank you for joining us.
His Majesty King Abdullah: Thank you all. It's a pleasure to join the world's top broadcast news professionals. I've had the privilege of being interviewed by more than a few of you. And my country has been honored to host many of you and your colleagues during the last few years. I'm grateful for your hospitality today.
I understand that my time with you this morning is listed on your agenda as a keynote address. But I've learned enough from my friends in the broadcasting world to know that you don't want to sit for 20 minutes looking at a talking head. So, if I may, I'd like to make just a few remarks, and then I hope we can have some interaction back and forth.
First, let me say that every one of you is part of an extraordinary enterprise, an international dialogue of tremendous scope and power. Through your work, the people of the world have had unprecedented access to information and ideas, and your viewers want to share in that larger world, to benefit from modern knowledge and opportunity, and more-to share in the benefits of justice and peace.
So how does our world expand its promise to those who are left out? I've suggested before that we face a great choice in this century. In one direction is a world of freedom and openness-a human community based on respect for others and growing opportunity. The other direction is the way of the extremists, toward a world of violence and division.
I believe in progressive change. And I believe that for this to happen, we need thoughtful journalists and credible sources of news more than ever. Today, the camera lens is the eye, not of the cameraman, but of millions of viewers watching over his or her shoulder. And we count on the global media to keep the focus clear. The challenge is, to see beyond the surface, to avoid distortion and to translate, not only between languages, but between cultures and communities- and especially today-Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.
Only a few years ago, such dialogue was rarely discussed. Today, building bridges is a major issue. We human beings have an urgent need to understand each other better, to speak to each other more responsibly, to avoid easy categories and avoid inflammatory rhetoric.
In the past few years, I've talked often about Islam as a religion of peace, rooted in core values of tolerance and respect for others. Islam's historic dynamism made my region a pioneer in civic development and scholarship-and by the way, paved the way for Western development as well. I've tried to express what the vast majority of today's Muslims expect themselves to be: full partners in our twenty-first century, on the basis of peace and shared respect.
Speaking out on these issues is my responsibility, not only personally, but as a citizen of the Arab Islamic world. And there are millions more who share my belief in the values and the future of our region. Jordan has led the way with structural reforms. We are energizing our economy. We are working for stable, democratic political life.
And we have put significant emphasis on human rights. A new Human Rights Center has been established to act as an ombudsman. In the area of the media, we are enacting laws to restructure state media organizations, and disengage the government from direct control. Laws have been drafted to liberalize the sector and to open the public airwaves to private TV and radio stations. And we abolished the Ministry of Information.
We know there is work ahead. Lasting change is deep change, and deep change does not come overnight. But Jordan has made its choice, for progressive reform, optimism, and peace. And many throughout the region agree.
Let me say, I am delighted that NewsXchange 2004 is highlighting the role of the Arab broadcast media. The Arab media has an important role if regional reform and peace are to succeed. Dispassionate, knowledgeable reporting; fairness; credibility-these are all essential to constructive public dialogue. Extremists don't seek dialogue; they seek platforms and exposure. Responsible journalists deny it to them, just as they deny the hatred and violence terrorists incite.
I cannot talk about our region without discussing the subject of peace. I know you're all closely following events in Iraq. It is urgent for the whole region, the whole world, that there be a rebuilt, violence-free, democratic and sovereign Iraq.
The Arab-Israeli peace process is also critical. This conflict is the central challenge of our day, not just in the region but around the world. It has brought untold suffering to the parties. It has held back regional development. And it is causing worldwide collateral damage, including extremist violence and a serious loss of faith in international justice.
In 2002, the Arab countries committed themselves to a balanced and lasting solution. It was a milestone proposal: real security for Israel to live in peace with its neighbors. A sovereign, viable, democratic and contiguous Palestinian state. And a process that leads to a comprehensive settlement, based on a two-state solution, addressing the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.
The parties agreed to the goals. The G-8 supported them. Now it's time for some hard, focused work to make it happen. At Yasser Arafat's funeral, world leaders came together with a new sense of urgency about fulfilling the dream of an independent Palestine and peace. I have urged the international community, especially the United States, to take the lead in moving the parties forward.
Now, I urge you, as news professionals, to help the world's leaders keep their eyes on the prize. Ordinary people on both sides, Israelis and Palestinians alike, are crying out for peace. Listen to them. Listen to their hopes. Help them speak louder than tanks and bombs.
Let me close by joining you in paying tribute to a special group of your peers-the reporters and cameramen and translators and others who have been killed doing their job. Many broadcast professionals have gone into danger to get the news in conflict zones and areas of crisis. Some have taken these risks to cross divides, to make sure they are hearing the whole story.
I know this conference is going to be looking closely at safety issues, and the welfare of journalists and their families. To me, the greatest honor I can pay them, and all of you, is to continue the work for peace. I believe we will succeed.
Thank you very much.
Q & A
Eason Jordan (CNN): President Bush has said many times that the war in Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has made Iraq and the world a safer place. Yesterday we saw the president of France disagree with that and say that he had serious doubts, and that in fact he thinks the world is not a safer place, that it's more dangerous with the war in Iraq. My question for you, Your Majesty, is do you think the world is a safer place given what's happened in Iraq? Is Iraq better off given the changes that have happened there? And is the region throughout the Middle East better off as a result of the conflict in Iraq?
HM King Abdullah: Well obviously if you look at the media and television today and you see the daily images on television, one wonders is Iraq or the world or the region better off today than it was yesterday. But I think that in order to bring Iraq, which is to me is the cradle of civilisation, back into the international community with all the capability that the Iraqi people have, the vast resources that Iraq as a country has to offer to the international community-Iraq being part of the international team-that in itself will make the region a much, much better place. But I believe that obviously to do that we have to get the security issue under control and that is going to take some time. But again, I want to point out that we do talk about Iraq being the major problem, but that is not the core issue. We have to be focussed on understanding what the problem is in the Middle East, and that is the Israeli-Palestinian one. Now obviously for western viewers, and especially in the United States, with coalition forces and loved ones in Iraq, that seems to be the priority. But unless we fix the Israeli-Palestinian problem, we'll never have true peace or true stability in the Middle East and I think that's where we need to concentrate our efforts and hope that stability comes to Iraq as quickly as possible and that Iraq becomes part and parcel of the international community very quickly.
Eason Jordan: Thank you your Majesty, the first question from the floor will come from Gaby Rosenburg of JCS in Israel.
Gaby Rozenburg: Your Majesty, do you think that the Arab media is covering the events in our region in a fair and responsible manner and do you feel or think that the Arab media can-or maybe I should say even should-contribute to the peace process in our region? Thank you your Majesty.
HM King Abdullah: Thank you, I think that the phenomenon of the Arab media over the past several years has been a tremendously positive one. If we look at the larger picture of creating a better world for the Middle East, I think media has a vital role to play in bringing about reform and opening peoples' minds. Now, when anything starts at the beginning, there are going to be some hiccups or ups and downs along the road. What we want from Arab media is credibility, ethics, principles-and I think the majority are trying to move in that direction. The problem that we have had is that there are certain media outlets that create a sense of supporting suspicion, hatred, and violence, which is destructive and not constructive at all for the region. But might I also add that I've seen similar levels of colouring from Western outlets also, so I think one of the things you need to discuss today, as you did in your introductions, is that he principles and ethics of journalism have to apply worldwide. The Middle East's media is a tremendously good start and I see the potential of it bringing cultures closer together, to opening up the Middle East, but those that take it the other way to incite violence, as I've said before, I hope the pen is mightier than the sword and that comes down to the media getting it right in the Middle East and bringing us closer together, and bringing us peace and prosperity, as opposed to inciting violence, hatred, and suspicion.
Eason Jordan: Your Majesty, if I could just follow up on that, Al Jazeera in particular has been a lightning rod and has been banned in Iraq from gathering and reporting the news from there, and has been banned from your own country on multiple occasions from reporting the news. As a last resort, do you defend and advocate the effective censorship of Arab news media that you and other leaders in the region deem to be irresponsible?
HM King Abdullah: Well again I think we've had our problems in Jordan. Al Jazeera-we've had our good days and bad days with them. We do close them down when they get to the point of being incorrect with their information when they are inflammatory in creating hatred and distrust. We've had some occasions where they have shut down, but that doesn't last for very long because we do believe in the freedom of the press, and Al Jazeera is back operating in Jordan. Al Jazeera, I believe, needs to look into the mirror and they'll know better than anyone else if what they're doing is for the betterment of the Middle East and for the Arab people or are they at times trying to break people further apart. Al Jazeera could probably answer that better than I could.
Eason Jordan: Your Majesty, the next question will come from Ashuf with Abu Dhabi TV.
Ashuf: Your Majesty, (US) Secretary (of State) Powell announced today that Iran is adapting its missiles to carry nuclear weapons. This is a new development-it is not that the capability is there, but that they are actually working on it. My question to Your Majesty today is after you have improved your ties with Iran and you have a special relationship with the West in general, what is the best course of action that should be taken in this atmosphere of claim and counter claims and denials? Thank you.
HM King Abdullah: Well the issue Iran has is basically with Western countries, and I believe there has to be a common understanding between Europe and the United States. If I can be that forward on how they should deal with Iran, there should be some sort of unified policy and then a united front should be able to sit down with the Iranian leadership and decide how to solve these problems that are facing them. At the moment, we keep seeing different groups going out and engaging with the Iranians, which sends confusing messages. I think that Iran has a vital role to play in our part of the world. Obviously Iraq is a prime example, and we need Iran on board with the international community. The problem that Iran is facing with the West needs to be sorted out, and it means European leaders and the United States coming to a common understanding.
Eason Jordan: Your Majesty the next question will come from Arnim Stauth of Germany.
Arnim Stauth: After the death of Yasser Arafat, does Your Majesty expect any fundamental changes in the policy of Israel, the United States, and the Palestinians concerning the peace process, and have you maybe got your own initiative ready to revive the peace process?
HM King Abdullah: The passing away of Prime Minister Arafat also came at a time of new elections in the United States, and so there are several factors that have to be considered. We all knew from talking to European leaders and our discussions with the US administration that after the elections there was going to be a new momentum to revive the peace process. I think that with passing away of Arafat, Israelis, and to an extent, certain members of the American administration, don't have an excuse that they don't have a partner for peace because Arafat was, for them, an issue. The problem is now, I believe, with our brothers the Palestinians. As quickly as possible, they need to sort out their leadership move to elections and create a sense of authority in the Palestinian lands so that there is a partner for peace. And I believe that we are ready to revive the Road Map and to push ahead. Prime Minister … and (Italian) Prime Minister Berlusconi, two people that I have met recently, have both got programmes to move the process forward. I am looking forward to meeting the President of the United States in the next two weeks, where again we hope to discuss how to move the process forward. So the atmosphere is one that can definitely be taken advantage of, and there is a possibility of moving the process forward quickly. I may add that I am very concerned that if we do not capitalise on the Road Map over the next year or two-in other words, if we do not guarantee to the Palestinian people that there will be a viable independent Palestinian state, if we don't articulate the vehicle and close everything in over the next two years-physically on the ground there may not be a Palestinian state. Now I have always believed that the future for Israelis if they want to be part of the neighbourhood from Morocco and the Atlantic and Oman on the Indian Ocean. If they want to be fully integrated into the neighbourhood that comes at a price, and that price is that without a future for the Palestinians then there is no conceivable future for the Middle East, at least in the short term. So talking to media you have to understand that if we don't put this together over the next two or three years then there may not be a viable Palestinian state to talk with, and as a result what is the future for Israelis and Arabs alike? That is something that we need to keep ourselves focused on.
Eason Jordan: Your Majesty the next question is from the CBC in Canada, Tony Burman, Tony.
Tony Burman: Your Majesty, this is the follow up regarding the United States' role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think most people view the conflict as you indicated with some despair, and it's hard not to look at some of the recent developments in Washington, the departure of Colin Powell, the kind of realignment of an administration that doesn't really seem to be committed, in the way that you talk about, to some sort of resolution. What optimism do you have, or what pressure can you apply, to get the United States involved in a very substantial way? Or do you view the next four years pessimistically?
HM King Abdullah: I advocate the school of having to be optimistic because I don't think there's any other alternative. … I think that my discussions with President Bush (show) that he is keen to move forward on the peace process. His meeting with (British) Prime Minister Tony Blair indicated-the majority of the conference was actually aimed at the process and bringing a future for Israelis and Palestinians. So we will see over the next couple of weeks how committed the United States is. And I truly hope that they are, because if as I've just alluded to, we don't solve the problem, then everybody is paying the price. I mean the core issue of the Israeli-Palestinian process is affecting all of us in the international community, whether you are in Canada, the United States, Spain or anywhere else in the world. We're all paying the price for this instability. So if we can bring a future for Israelis and Palestinians, we have to do it now. If we lose this golden opportunity-and I believe we only have a short window of a couple of years to convince the people that we can pull it off-then the area is going to be in for a major, major period of instability.
Eason Jordan: Your Majesty, just two more questions, the first one is from Jay Tuck of ARD, Germany - Jay.
Jay Tuck: Thank you. Your majesty I'd like to come back to the issue of Al Jazeera and your country Jordan. You mentioned "dispassionate" (reporting) right at the top of your list of what good media should be doing and Al Jazeera is sometimes very passionate in their reporting. My question concerns the domestic situation in you country. How do you feel that Al Jazeera and the other Arab media's reporting influences the domestic situation within Jordan? And do you sense feedback on Al Jazeera's reporting from the public in Jordan? Thank you.
HM King Abdullah: Well, when certain stations have incited extreme reaction, yes. One of the problems that we have in Jordan (is that) whereas the overwhelming majority of Jordanians liked Americans or what America stands for, they always had a problem with American foreign policy. But certain media stations with a lot of visuals and with passionate reporting have changed the situation in a lot of Arab countries, where instead of targeting a government's foreign policy, now people are frustrated or feel animosity toward people. And it's not just the media stations in the Middle East that you've just mentioned. I see that when looking at certain broadcasting networks in the United States where again they're not helping to bridge divides or bring people closer together. So I think it's not just an Arab thing. I think this is an international thing. You as media have the ability to bring all of us closer together, or create suspicion, hatred, and violence. And that is a call that I think that most people have made on the right side, but the majority have to make sure that the minority understands, or at least identifies them for what they are. And let's bring good to the world instead of preaching violence, hatred, and suspicion.
Eason Jordan: Your Majesty the final question is going to come from a colleague at Orbit Television, I believe you know him, Emad El Din Adeeb, who is going to moderate our next session on the Arab media. I just want to thank you sir for joining us today. It has meant a lot to us. And with that, I'll turn it over to Emad with the final question - Emad.
Emad El Din Adeeb: Thank you, Eason, very much. Good morning. Your Majesty, the question is a very simple and naïve one. No country in the area-and I mean no country-has had had it's it geography predicted or imposed on it like Jordan. You have from one side tensions in Palestine and Israel, and on the other side tensions inside Iraq. The question is this: Is Jordan now ready to play a role of a guarantor like a so-called, 'Jordanian Option,' either in Palestine or Iraq?
HM King Abdullah: Well, Emad my friend, there's no question that you've ever asked that I think has ever been naïve, but it's good to see you again. No this is a question that comes up from time to time, and whether it's the issue of Iraq or the West Bank, it's one where we have always taken the moral high ground. His late Majesty's policy was always not to get involved in the internal affairs of other countries. We're there for the Palestinians, we're there for the Iraqis to help them achieve their future stability and a promise for future generations, and we do stick our necks out on many occasions because we believe that a future for the Palestinians-a viable independent Palestinian state-is also in the best interests of Jordan. Our reason for supporting Iraq is that to get Iraq back into the international community as quickly as possible is good for Jordan. But obviously because of the family history of the Hashemite Kingdom, it does raise questions, and I think the issue … at the moment is not constructive because all it does is create confusion the future of the Palestinians and a viable independent Palestinian state. If we start talking about other options, then we let people off the hook. And so our policy in Jordan will continue to be: Please don't ask the question of confederation, federation or an option between Jordan and the Palestinians because it's a non-starter. The only starter for the Palestinians is their own homeland. And for Iraq, the same thing. The Iraqis have a tremendous culture and history. We in Jordan hope that they will be able to bring a future as quickly as possible and (we hope to) be able to help. In this day and age, it is not feasible. Maybe if it had happened during the Cold War, or early on in the 1920s. You cannot take governments and extend their responsibilities across borders to other people. It just doesn't work.
Emad El Din Adeeb: Your Majesty, in the name of all my colleagues and myself, thank you very much indeed for this contribution. We hope always to see you and your country in a good situation. Thank You, Sir.
HM King Abdullah: Thank You, Emad. And thank you, Eason.