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Transition to parliamentary gov't a historic moment for Jordan - King

posted Sep 13, 2012, 5:10 PM by Syrian Transition   [ updated Sep 13, 2012, 5:10 PM ]
13 Sept 2012 (Jordan Times) Following is the full transcript of His Majesty King Abdullah's interview with Agence France-Presse on Wednesday:
Question: Your Majesty, various Western sources have said Jordan and Turkey might consider buffer zones in Syria. Is the Kingdom considering such a move?
Answer: Jordan has not considered imposing a buffer zone, but obviously we reserve the sovereign right to consider all options to safeguard the interests and
security of Jordan. My first and foremost duty is to protect Jordan and its citizens. We have seen the Syrian army shoot civilians fleeing across our border, Syria
has shelled Jordanian territory. So we are keeping our options open, if, for example, there are more escalations. Jordan will always act under the framework of
international and Arab consensus, and in accordance with international law.
That said, our priority continues to be to work for a solution based on a peaceful political transition within the international legal framework. Ultimately, this is the
best safeguard, the best buffer.
Q: Some Jordanian officials have been quoted as saying the Kingdom has arrested Syrian cells, particularly in the north. Is this true? If yes, when and what did
they plan to do in the country?
A: Since the beginning of the crisis, some 200,000 Syrians - men, women and children - have fled to us, often at night, often in small family groups. It would
have been impossible to have run security checks on everyone as they crossed into Jordan, and we received them on a humanitarian basis. But, yes, we have
discovered that a few came here, not to seek safe haven, but to carry out other missions - intelligence gathering on refugees, or schemes to target Jordan's
stability and security. Let me simply say, the way Syria deals with its neighbours is one of the potential escalations that we are watching closely.
Q: US and other media reported that Jordanian and US Special Forces are training for a military intervention in Syria to secure its chemical weapons. Do you have
such plans? Do you think Syria is capable of unleashing these weapons?
A: If Syria unleashes its chemical weapons on its own people or in any other direction, this would constitute a gross violation of international law, and I would
imagine the international community would react strongly and promptly. All of us in the international community are watching through the microscope at how
the Syrian government deals with chemical weapons.
As for Jordan's plans, well, a good army plans for all contingencies, and the Jordan Armed Forces are outstanding professionals. This is obviously not the
appropriate forum to discuss details. Quite simply, we owe it to our people to have contingency plans to protect them and guarantee public safety and security.
Q: Western powers and some Arab countries have been urging President Bashar Assad to quit, saying this will help end the conflict. Are you of that opinion? Or
do you think his departure, in face of a fractured opposition, could spell more trouble for Syria and beyond its borders?
A: I've been saying all along that the issue is not the individual, but the system. If President Bashar were to leave tomorrow, but the system stayed, then what
would the Syrian people have achieved?
I am extremely worried about the risk of a fragmentation of Syria. Over the past few months we have witnessed an increase in sectarian violence. This not only
endangers the unity of Syria, but it could also be a prelude to a spillover of the conflict, into neighbouring countries with similar sectarian composition. We have
already seen signals that this risk is looming closer.
We need to find a formula for a political transition where all components of Syrian society, including the Alawites, feel that they have a stake in the country's
future. An inclusive transition process is the only way to stop the escalation in sectarian violence. It is in the best interest of the Syrian people, as it would
preserve the territorial integrity and unity of Syria, and it is in the best interest of regional stability and the international community.
Q: Riad Hijab is the highest-ranking Syrian official to have defected to Jordan. Who else has sought refuge here, and do you see Hijab and others play a role in a
post-Assad Syria?
A: Who will play a role in the future of Syria will be up to the Syrians. Our responsibility in the international community is to work towards a political solution that
stops the bloodshed, restores security, and guarantees the unity and territorial integrity of Syria.
As for defections, I can tell you that hundreds of military and security officers have sought refuge in Jordan. We respond on a case-by-case basis, in line with
humanitarian principles and international law. This has always been and will remain our rule.
But the great majority of people who fled across our border are families, and mostly vulnerable families.
Q: Your Majesty, Jordan is sheltering around 200,000 Syrians. Do you expect to receive more refugees?
A: I do, unfortunately, as sad and difficult as it is. At times, we have received several thousand refugees in a single night, and this figure could grow in the
coming months as Syria slips into further sectarian violence. With the approach of winter and cold desert temperatures, the humanitarian prospect is dire.
You heard that six UN agencies joined Jordan last week in a joint appeal to the international community for immediate assistance. This is urgently needed, to
give these suffering families just the basics of life. My country has already crossed its absorption capacity. At the beginning, most Syrians crossing into Jordan
were coming to stay with relatives, as there are 550,000 Syrians married into Jordanian families. Now most of those who are coming need shelter. Last month
we had to open the Zaatari camp, and a second camp will be opened soon. Meanwhile, more than 30,000 Syrian citizens have received medical treatment in
Jordan, be that in hospitals or health centres, more than 25,000 Syrian pre-schoolers have received vaccination in Jordan, and our schools have enrolled close to
17,000 Syrian students.
The cost of all this is obviously huge, and we could not meet it alone. Jordan has a record budget deficit, due mainly to the disruptions in the Egyptian gas
supply. The demands on our services infrastructure and limited resources are also high.
International support is vital, and so far the response of the international community has been very positive. We can only hope it will continue in this way.
Q: Your Majesty, how do you view the reform process so far?
A: Things that were only on the horizon last year have moved much further on. One-third of our Constitution has been amended, with provisions to widen
representation, to protect civil rights and freedoms, and to enhance the separation of powers. We have created an independent Constitutional Court. Our first
Independent Elections Commission is at work, preparing for the upcoming parliamentary polls. New laws are being enacted; citizens everywhere are engaged in
debating public issues; our political party system is evolving and being strengthened.
The challenge now is to keep moving forward. As guarantor of the reform process, I have been urging a tight timeline towards elections, so we can make a
historic transition to parliamentary government. With the beginning of the new year, we will have our new Parliament.
Q: You have promised early elections and voter registration is now under way. Do you think the unrest in Syria will affect the polls?
A: Regional challenges are no excuse not to proceed with reform. We are confident enough with the reform process not to use regional challenges to step
away from what Jordanians want to achieve - a strong drive for reform. We will continue with the reform process and our drive for elections by the end of this
year.
Q: Islamists and other opposition groups have announced plans to boycott general elections over the current electoral law. You have already asked for
amendments to the law once, do you plan to ask for further amendments?
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