Jordanian top diplomat says Syria faces disintegration risk
Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. (Photo: Reuters, Hamad I Mohammed)
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh has warned that Syria could disintegrate if the civil war in the Arab nation leads to ethnic and sectarian violence, and called for a quick transition period.
“The political strife and the civil war of a political nature [in Syria] could lead to ethnic and sectarian violence and that could [in turn] lead to disintegration,” he said on Tuesday while speaking to a group of Turkish reporters ahead of King Abdullah II's visit to Turkey.
Unlike Iraq, where there are three big segments -- namely, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, in Syria there are too many groups in society, with each making up more than 5 percent of the population, he said. “In Iraq, the disintegration and fragmentation of the state resulted in ethnic and sectarian civil strife,” Judeh said, adding that the opposite is happening in Syria.
Calling the disintegration of Syria a “nightmare scenario,” the foreign minister called on the international community to cooperate to make the transition in Syria happen as soon as possible. “Both Turkey, as Syria's northern neighbor, and Jordan, its southern neighbor, have every interest in seeing Syria united, keeping its territorial integrity intact and preserving its entity,” he stated.
For that, the Jordanian official asked that the process of transition in Syria start immediately to pave the way for a democratic society. “We have to have all components of society engaged in [this process] and have a pluralistic society ensue,” he explained, stressing that “we need to work together to end the bloodshed.”
Talking about the problems of refugees spilling over to neighboring countries, including Turkey and Jordan, Judeh said his government is working closely with Turkey to draw the attention of the world to the increasing refugee problem. “We are trying to deal with this whole issue in a way that produces a resolution to stop the violence on the ground,” he remarked, adding that close cooperation between Turkey and Jordan is ongoing over the refugee issue, including the exchange of information and expertise.
Judeh said his government had spent some $600 million on refugees as of last year and received only some $200 million in aid from international partners. “We are averaging 3,000-5,000 refugees [crossing into Jordan] every day,” he said, expecting that the flow of refugees will multiply as the conflict and violence from the north spreads to the southern parts of Syria. According to the minister, the refugees have placed a huge burden on the Jordanian economy, especially on the energy, education, water and health sectors.
This comes at a bad time for Jordan because the economy as a whole is struggling to recover from rising food and energy prices, a disruption of its budget discipline, low growth and soaring unemployment. Stressing that 96 percent of its energy is imported, Judeh said the interruption and reduction of Egyptian gas and the rise in oil prices have cost the economy some $6 billion in the last two years alone. “The fluctuation of oil prices hurts us. Every time a barrel of oil increases by $1, the cost to Jordan's economy is $40 million,” he noted. In contrast, he said, Turkey has a large and growing economy.
The Jordanian foreign minister asked Turkish companies to invest in what he called a pivotal country in the Levant. “There is a lot more that we can do to reflect the special nature of the long history and partnership between the two countries,” he remarked, adding that Jordan can learn from Turkish experiences in its economy and industries while improving the level of trade. “We are extremely happy and gratified with the level of partnership and friendship. We will continue to build on that,” he underlined.
Calling their bilateral ties “very unique and special,” the Jordanian top diplomat said both countries could have a positive effect on regional affairs by working together. “Turkey with its economic weight and standing in the region and Jordan with its pivotal role in the southern part of the Mediterranean can work together,” he said, dismissing suggestions that this relationship is at the expense of others in the region.
Judeh emphasized that the core issue in the Middle East is still the Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflict, despite the Syrian crisis. “This has caused so much instability in the region and beyond,” he said, predicting that the creation of a sovereign, independent and territorially contiguous Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital based on a two-state solution will bring peace and tranquility to the region, including Israel. “That is a priority for Jordan regardless of the other events in the region that we are seeing,” he underlined.
Touching on the upcoming visit by US President Barack Obama to Israel, Palestine and Jordan, Judeh said he was encouraged by US involvement in the Middle East peace process. “We feel there is a serious window of opportunity in Obama's second term, probably the last remaining window to come for a while,” he said.
Praising Turkish companies doing business in Jordan, Judeh said, “You actually helped us to solve big chunks of our problem in a water conveyance project.” He was referring to a $1.1 billion mega project by Turkish construction giant GAMA, in cooperation with General Energy, to extract 100 million cubic meters of water a year from the 300,000-year-old Disi aquifer in southern Jordan. The project, started in 2009, is expected to be completed by the summer.
Stating that Jordan is offering very ambitious and aggressive projects in energy, transportation and water conveyance, Judeh said he hopes Turkish companies will keep looking into Jordan. He singled out the Red Sea and Dead Sea pipeline canal as an important project for Jordan to address desalination and environmental degradation issues while producing electricity. Judeh also noted that technical groups at the working level are meeting on the $18 billion-pipeline project to carry Iraqi oil from Basra to Jordan's port city of Aqaba. “But this is a long-term project and we need short-term solutions,” he said.