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CNN/Time “Newsstand”

Interviewer: Christiane Amanpour

January 24, 1999


Jeff Greenfield: Now, a conversation with Jordan's King Hussein. It's his first major interview since he underwent cancer treatment in the United States. Over the weekend, the king shocked the Middle East by changing the line of his succession from his brother to his son. He hinted at this change less than 24 hours after his return home during an exclusive interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. Listen as he speaks of his brother Crown Prince Hassan.

(Begin Videotape)

King Hussein: My view is that I brought about the changes that have lasted until now. I have seen—I can see what is happening. God knows I love him as I love all my children, and I brought him up as my son. And he has helped. And I love his family as I love all my family. I love all people. But there is no personal greed or ambition as far as I am concerned. The best is what concerns me.

Christiane Amanpour: For your country.

King Hussein: And people living happily and people living together, and not a group coming to try to destroy what the previous one has done, but to add to it. And I think these are basically understood by everyone, including, obviously, Prince Hassan.

Amanpour: So if we're to understand who will succeed him. Is that the question?

King Hussein: Yes, that was the issue to begin with. And maybe with my illness and being away, it became more of an issue. But it brought with it this whole general atmosphere of uncertainty.

Amanpour: It was a triumphant return . . . (Sound of cheering) . . . a warm welcome home despite the cold and rainy weather. Hundreds of thousands of Jordanians filled the streets to cheer their monarch, who had never been away for so long during a rule that has lasted nearly half a century. Jordanians got their first glimpse of the king when he was still in the air. After all these months of being away, 12 fighter jets escorting you into the airport here. Was it fun? It looked fun from here.

King Hussein: It was. It was lovely to fly with the boys that have worked for so many years and to be back home. And we were very, very pleasantly surprised by the fact that we received similar treatment from the Royal Air Force flying over Britain, and the French air force over France, and the Italian air force over Italy, and the Israeli air force over Israel, and finally the Jordanians welcomed us home.

Amanpour: When you arrived, there were tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people in the streets for you. And yet, it was raining and it was cold. And we were cold. And yet, you got up and stood in the sunroof of your car. Did you ever think of not getting out and waving?

King Hussein: No. I never did that. I think Noor was trying to give me a lot of moral support and help every now and then. But it was so cold, and I did not have adequate clothing. So my clothes turned out to be something like a sponge, and it was pretty cold. But the warmth that I felt everywhere was more than enough.

Amanpour: You speak about your wife, Queen Noor. And you said—in fact yesterday in your public comments—how much you thanked her. And you used the words that she, too, had suffered through your ordeal.

King Hussein: Oh, yes, she had.

Amanpour: Explain to us.

King Hussein: Well, we—it has been a struggle throughout our lives, really, with all the challenges and all the problems that we have had to put up with. But she has always been there.

Amanpour: She heard first that you had cancer?

King Hussein: I think she was among the first, yes. And so I could see that she was putting on such a brave face, and she was consoling me and the doctors. And of course, my reaction was "What next? Where do we go from here?" But she was there with me for every hour.

Amanpour: The word "cancer" is frightening for everybody. Were you frightened?

King Hussein: I wasn't frightened. I wasn't frightened. And as far as cancer is concerned, I believe that an example was the first days when I left the treatment on chemotherapy and my hair was falling apart, so I went and shaved it. And then we thought of—suggestions were made. I should put a bandana or put a hat. I said, "Why? I am not ashamed of it. So many people have it." And when you see the young children receiving treatment and how brave they are, it is something that should be recognized. And it is something that is surmountable, God-willing, in most cases.

Amanpour: You probably have never had this much time to think away from Jordan in your 47 years of rule. What were you thinking about there in terms of your life, your legacy, Jordan, the future?

King Hussein: I think that we are still wasting a lot of time; on important issues, we are not concentrating enough. For example, cancer. What is being done about it? What resources are being spent the world over for research? AIDS. And then, pollution.

Terrorism is one of the most frightening aspects of our lives now and the availability of potentially weapons of mass destruction of a kind that was never under less control than it is now. What is being done?

Amanpour: Jordan is pivotal in the Middle East. It is surrounded by Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

US President Bill Clinton: (background voice-over): We in the world are immeasurably in his debt. Your Majesty . . .

Amanpour: And as elder statesman, King Hussein has played the biggest role in trying to bring stability. Well, everybody remembers you literally rising from your sick bed at the Wye Plantation and using your experience and authority to make these two parties close that deal. But it didn't work.

King Hussein: Let's hope. Let's hope. It didn't work, no. It worked at the time, but it was temporary relief. But I still feel that those of us who work for peace and believe in peace have a very, very loud voice, and hopefully, wisdom and common sense will prevail.

Amanpour: You granted an interview to CNN right after the election of Benjamin Netanyahu, when there was the Arab summit in Cairo, called to deal with the election of Benjamin Netanyahu. And you told me then that you believed that Mr. Netanyahu's pragmatism and politics would lead him to continue the Oslo peace process. But he hasn't, has he?

King Hussein: It has been many years, and we are still waiting, and progress has been very, very slow—very slow. There is a general feeling that the treatment of Palestinians, in particular, has not been right. And I don't see how the future relationship can develop properly and solidly if this is the case.

Amanpour: Let's talk about Iraq. Several years ago, when Saddam Hussein's brother-in-law—son-in-law—defected, Hussein Kamel, you came out then publicly about the need for new leadership in Iraq. You thought that that was the time. Do you still believe that?

King Hussein: I have always been for the people, and we are always for the integrity and territorial integrity of Iraq, and for opportunity and for something called democracy in Iraq where people can shape their future in an atmosphere of freedom. It is, in the final analysis, the Iraqis that will decide. And I think this is something that should be recognized by one and all.

Amanpour: Do you think Saddam Hussein is becoming slightly panicky or unhinged?

King Hussein: I certainly do not understand. I certainly do not comprehend. I certainly, when I look at the human dimension of it, I cannot see—and I am not referring to any particular individual—how anyone amongst so many that we have seen in recent history can face his maker, and pretend to be pious or religious or whatever, and answer for all the damage that has been caused to his people: all the deaths, all the misery that has happened to children, old people, young people. And I couldn't reach him.

Amanpour: You couldn't connect with him anymore?

King Hussein: No.

Amanpour: Do you agree with what the U.S. is trying to do—fund the opposition, openly call for his overthrow? Do you agree with that kind of plan? Would you support it?

King Hussein: I think that it won't work. The right approach is one that is different, is one that would concentrate on the people of Iraq.

Amanpour: What is going to happen to this region?

King Hussein: It is an interesting time, isn't it?

Amanpour: Yes, and the traditional, if I might say, elderly generation of leaders, many of them are sick. What is going to happen?

King Hussein: I think that if we are looking at the best kind of scenario, it is people slowly, somehow, getting through a process of evolution of their rights and being able to stand up and being able to feel that they count—real people. And without that, I think the future is bleak. Repression doesn't work. It hasn't worked. And I hope people realize that.

Amanpour: King Hussein was 17 years old when he ascended to the thrown in 1952. He's seen many wars and he has tried to bring peace to his region. But even now, as he reflects on his legacy, there are still battles that he wants to win. As you confronted your maker there for a while and as you looked to the future, how do you hope that history will remember you? And what do you think the answer will be when you talk to your maker?

King Hussein: I hope as someone who's tried his best, who was proud of being of the people and for them, who lived their lives, who suffered their suffering, who loved them and supported whatever he believed was right, including peace.

Amanpour: What is your proudest moment?

King Hussein: There have been many moments, many moments. Probably less than others, because the worst part was that there were many crises that passed through this area that I could see coming and I warned and did whatever I could to prevent them happening. But no one listened. Those are moments of failure and disappointment. Lots of things could have been different than they are right now, but anyway, we had to keep straight. And let's hope for a better future, for peace, for harmony.