Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

March 20, 2013

AP INTERVIEW: Jordan king says Assad days numbered

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan's king warned Wednesday that a jihadi state could emerge on his northern border in Syria with Islamic extremists trying to establish a foothold in the neighboring country.

King Abdullah II, a key U.S.-ally, told The Associated Press in an interview that in his view, Syrian President Bashar Assad was beyond rehabilitation and it was only a matter of time before his authoritarian regime collapses. But he said he opposed foreign military intervention.

"The most worrying factors in the Syrian conflict are the issues of chemical weapons, the steady flow or sudden surge in refugees and a jihadist state emerging out of the conflict," the king said.

He said it costs his cash-strapped nation $550 million annually to host an estimated 500,000 Syrian refugees — about nine percent of Jordan's population of 6 million. He said most have crossed in the last 12 months.

The government says they have strained the country's meager resources, including health care and education, and forced the budget deficit to a record high of $3 billion last year.

There is also concern that agents linked to Assad or his militant Lebanese ally Hezbollah has formed sleeper cells in Jordan to destabilize the country.

Nevertheless, Abdullah said he was against any foreign military intervention in Syria, including setting up a safe zone for the refugees inside the country.

"Jordan works within Arab consensus and international consensus and legalities. I am totally against sending Jordanian troops inside Syria and this has always been Jordanian policy. I am also against any foreign military intervention in Syria."

Previously, Abdullah warned that Syria's chemical weapons could fall into the hand of the militants, who are seeking to establish presence in Syria. From there, they could be used against Syria's neighbors, including Jordan — a strong U.S. ally that signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

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