US embassy cable - 02AMMAN3978

FORMER JORDANIAN PM TOUR D'HORIZON

Identifier: 02AMMAN3978
Wikileaks: View 02AMMAN3978 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Amman
Created: 2002-07-18 14:42:00
Classification: SECRET//NOFORN
Tags: PREL PINS ETRD EFIN JO
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 AMMAN 003978 
 
SIPDIS 
 
NOFORN 
 
TREASURY FOR A/S QUARLES, DAS RADELET 
NSC FOR GARY EDSON, CLAY LOWERY 
STATE FOR U/S LARSON, A/S WAYNE, A/S BURNS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/17/2017 
TAGS: PREL, PINS, ETRD, EFIN, JO 
SUBJECT: FORMER JORDANIAN PM TOUR D'HORIZON 
 
REF: A) AMMAN 3517 (NOTAL) B) AMMAN 794 C) AMMAN 0687 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR EDWARD W. GNEHM, REASONS 1.5 (b) and (d) 
 
 1.  (S/NF) SUMMARY: In a wide-ranging tour-d'horizon with 
the Ambassador, former PM and FM Abdulkarim Kabariti candidly 
weighed in on a variety of issues, foreign and domestic. 
Kabariti is known for his strong views on domestic politics 
and the GOJ's relationship with Iraq.  Kabariti's comments 
need to be read in perspective.  He is a former government 
official, very much on the outs.  His insights are 
nonetheless invaluable and jibe with much of what we hear on 
the street about the GOJ and the King's relationship to his 
country and his government.  END SUMMARY 
 
2.  (S/NF) Ambassador paid a courtesy call on former PM and 
FM Abdulkarim Kabariti July 17.  Currently CEO and President 
of the Jordan Kuwait Bank, Kabariti served as PM from 1996-7 
and FM from 1995-6.  He has also served as Chairman of the 
Foreign Relations Committee in the Jordanian House of 
Representatives, First Deputy Speaker in the Upper House of 
the Parliament, Chief of the Royal Court, and, most recently, 
Senator. 
 
---- 
MEPP 
---- 
 
3.  (S/NF) Kabariti said it was "a miracle" that Jordan 
seemed to be insulated from the effects of recent actions on 
the West Bank/Gaza.  He credited the security measures and 
precautions taken by the King, the direct result being that 
emotions were not allowed "to build up".  He added that it 
helped, too, that "everyone is happy making a living, 
enabling them to send money back to Palestine".  He agreed 
that the GOJ's strategy worked much better than even the 
government expected. 
 
4.  (S/NF) Kabariti wondered aloud, however, if after U.S. 
midterm elections there might be greater U.S. involvement in 
resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue.  He said that an 
improvement in the situation in the Occupied Territories 
would help "more than anything else" gain wider support for 
American interests in the region and the GOJ as well.  He 
said that perhaps some "disengagement with Sharon" after the 
elections would "demonstrate an interest in the Palestinian 
people, in their problems."  He said any uproar following an 
American attack on Iraq would not be as much about Iraq as it 
would be anti-American, a demonstration of sympathy with 
Palestine.  Kabariti also said that Saudi Crown Prince 
Abdullah should somehow be publicly rewarded for his role in 
the peace process.  He said that, again, after the election, 
there should be a plan that gives hope, and some 
demonstration that C.P.Abdullah's initiative has "at least 
been taken seriously". 
 
---- 
IRAQ 
---- 
 
5.  (S/NF) Kabariti noted that PM Abul Ragheb was "giving a 
dangerous impression" with his repeated public denials that 
American forces were present in Jordan and that Jordan would 
not be used to support American action in Iraq.  He said that 
once the U.S. does strike Iraq, one of two things will have 
to happen: either the Abul Ragheb government will have to go 
and a new one take its place, or the PM will be forced to say 
"political realities" forced a complete change in policy. 
Kabariti said he was "extremely worried" that because the 
difference between the PM's public stand and reality was so 
different, public opinion would be that much more difficult 
to manage. 
 
6.  (S/NF) Kabariti related the PM's comments to Jordan's 
relationship with Gulf countries.  He said this current 
position on Iraq is troubling some of Jordan's friends.  By 
way of example, he said senior Kuwaitis were "pissed off", 
and had asked him directly if the PM was being bribed. 
Kabariti said he defended the PM  and told his Kuwaiti 
interlocutors that this was all part of "a domestic political 
campaign to deal with the present political situation".  But 
he said the strategy was "sure to backfire". 
----------------------- 
OIL AND THE PM'S LEGACY 
----------------------- 
 
7.  (S/NF) A clearly troubled Kabariti added that "we've 
succumbed to the allure of business with Iraq".  He pointed 
out that the PM's son had many Iraqi business ties and that 
"it all looked very bad".  Responding to Ambassador's query 
regarding illegal diversion of Iraqi oil (REF A), Kabariti 
said the motive was "money, that's it".  Calling the scheme 
"a sheer bribe", he said it was "a domestic money laundering 
scheme" and that Zaid Juma of the Royal Court was aware of 
it.  He said part of the money goes to the military, but most 
of the money goes to "the bosses".  Kabariti said that "the 
whole thing was packaged with the blessing of the Court and 
the King".  He said that "the GOJ has never been so possessed 
by intricacies and details" as it is by this sort of 
business, and that, as a result, the government was in danger 
of gaining a regional reputation as "a cheap bunch of 
decision makers". 
8.  (S/NF) Kabariti recalled the day PM Abul Ragheb was asked 
to form the government.  He said that he advised Ragheb that 
"once PM, there was no way to go but down" and that he would 
need "luck, will, and devotion" to hold the job.  He told 
Abul Ragheb "to think about the day you are asked to resign 
and what your legacy will be.  Will it be as a reformer?" 
Kabariti mused that rather than being "a strong man of the 
Gulf", the PM was more "the strong oil man of Iraq", and five 
years from now would be "perceived as an agent of Saddam, 
being paid off by Saddam".  Kabariti said that this is 
apparently the legacy Abul Ragheb wants, as he has made 
himself "a hostage" to his pro-Iraqi comments and 
connections. 
 
----------------- 
DOMESTIC POLITICS 
----------------- 
 
9.  (S/NF) Kabariti said the king needed to be more vocal in 
molding public opinion in advance of a possible strike in 
Iraq.  He said the king could frame the argument in such a 
way that focused on Saddam's regime, rather than the Iraqi 
people", that "so many good things cannot be realized by the 
Iraqis" due to Saddam, and that "crimes against humanity, not 
the Iraqi people, would be the target of any coalition 
action.  Kabariti said the King's upcoming trip to Washington 
would be a good time for him to get a "very clear message" on 
how to "prepare the people for what's going to come".  Noting 
that the King was not taking the PM to Washington, and that 
this was a new policy, Kabariti said Abul Ragheb was told to 
"be more like the Egyptian PM and focus on domestic affairs". 
 The King would handle international affairs.  He said Abul 
Ragheb clearly did not like this development, and that he had 
become "edgy and afraid" as a result. 
 
10.  (S/NF) Kabariti agreed with the Ambassador that the 
relationship between Washington and Amman was "improved from 
years past" and that this was largely due to the respect the 
Bush Administration had for the King, and the ability of both 
the King and the Queen to connect with the American people. 
But he added that the King "feels much more at ease on a 
foreign platform than the domestic one" and said that they 
were both "very insecure" in Jordan.  He added that this 
insecurity leads to bringing "low caliber people" into the 
government, because "no one, not the King, not the PM, wants 
to be upstaged".  He said the King had not yet "developed his 
father's ability to trust his advisors", and that "he does 
not like politics at all".  As a result, he said, the King's 
advisors are afraid to tell him anything.  (Note: Kabariti 
also said the King "loves to axe people" in terms of removing 
them from the government.  He said the King believes it 
portrays the image of "a firm, determined, strong-minded 
man".  End note) 
 
11.  (S/NF) Kabariti suggested that "the King needs more 
time" to learn how to govern, and said that all Abdullah 
wanted, before the passing of King Hussein, was to be head of 
the Army--"That was his long-term dream; he has never been 
groomed to be King".  But he said that "the Queen adds to his 
insecurity as she does not trust any one."  He added that 
"she is the last one to whisper in his ear" on most matters. 
 
--------- 
ELECTIONS 
--------- 
 
12.  (S/NF) In response to the Ambassador's question on 
possible timing of Parliamentary elections, Kabariti said he 
thought they would not take place before May or June of 2003. 
 Surprisingly, he said that such timing "was okay".  Although 
he was convinced that the King could "manage" elections if 
they were held in autumn as has been widely speculated, the 
King could move the date back without much political damage. 
Kabariti said the King was not afraid of the results of the 
poll; rather, the Court "wanted to rule without 
accountability to Parliament".  Pointing to his own 
experience as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of 
the House of Representatives, Kabariti said "one can always 
make deals in politics, even with the Muslim Brotherhood", 
whose support he gained to pass the Peace Agreement with 
Israel in 1994. 
 
13.  (S/NF) Returning to his earlier theme, he said the King 
"should learn how to strike deals and build an instinct to 
trust on political terms".  He said that with or without 
elections, the government has to "bring the internal 
political situation along".  Kabariti forcefully stated that 
"vision without leadership is fatal; leadership without 
vision even more fatal".  He said the King must take 
political issues on, even if "he is not willing to suffer" 
through the business of politics. 
 
------- 
ECONOMY 
------- 
 
14.  (SBU) Kabariti opined the economy was "doing very well". 
 He said he thought the growth over the last five years had 
been "phenomenal" given the tensions in the region.  He 
endorsed the Ambassador's comment that it was imperative that 
more people in the Kingdom feel the benefits of economic 
growth, but restated his earlier supposition that had it not 
been for the current economic situation, Jordan would not be 
able to "handle" the Palestinian issue.  Kabariti warmly 
thanked Ambassador for American aid and support.  He said 
that the growth in exports to the U.S. should be a sign to 
Jordanians that opening up to American interests has "very 
obvious benefits". 
 
--------------- 
BANKING SCANDAL 
--------------- 
 
15.  (S/NF) Seconding the Ambassador's observation that the 
banking system rode out the recent loan scandal (REF C), 
Kabariti said that alleged perpetrator Majed al-Shemaileh 
chose the banks that he dealt with very carefully.  He said 
that Shemaileh "picked older banks, managed by 
decision-makers who were easily bribed", and avoided 
"professional" banks whose loan criteria would not have 
permitted such activity.  He agreed that the Central Bank did 
"very well", but that more accountability in the system was 
clearly needed "if we are to survive" another such problem. 
He said that money lost by the banks in the scandal, said to 
be about $12 million, should be absorbed by the banks in two 
to three years. 
 
16.  (S/NF) Kabariti noted the case of former head of 
Jordanian Intelligence (GID) Samih al-Batikhi, whose assets 
were seized during the course of the investigation and who 
was alleged by press reports to have been part of the scandal 
(REF B), allegations that have not yet been publicly put to 
rest.  He said he reminded the King that Batikhi had been 
instrumental in safeguarding both his father's regime, as 
well as his own.  He said that if Batikhi wanted money, there 
were many other ways he could have got it; he could have had 
$15 million from Kuwait, $50 million from Saddam, or even $10 
million from the Libyans.  Kabariti said in the course of 
trying to organize the Court finances during his tenure as 
Chief of the Royal Court (from March 1999 to January 2000), 
he discovered the King was "hiding some of Court's funds with 
Batikhi".  Kabariti said he reminded the King of this during 
a "very frank discussion".  Kabariti said that after he saw 
what happened to Batikhi, he would never return to politics. 
 
 
----------------------------------- 
WE WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU IN THE COLD 
----------------------------------- 
 
17.  (S/NF) At the conclusion of the discussion, Kabariti 
returned to the subject of Iraq.  He said that, given his 
trade and oil dealings with Iraq, the PM will never be able 
to give a forceful message to the Jordanians explaining the 
need for regime change.  He said he was aware of American 
assurances to Jordan that "we will never leave you in the 
cold" should some interruption of Iraqi oil shipments take 
place.  He said the message to Jordan from the U.S. should be 
"Don't tell me about $250 million (the value of Iraqi oil 
exports to Jordan).  We gave you $500 million!"  Kabariti 
added that the recent Paris Club agreement would not have 
been secured without the help of the USG, implying that 
getting this story out would help as well. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
18.  (S/NF) A passionate, patriotic man with strong opinions, 
Kabariti is well known to the Embassy.  His extensive service 
in government, under both the late King Hussein and King 
Abdullah, gives him a unique and informed perspective on a 
wide range of international, regional, and domestic issues. 
 
Gnehm 

Latest source of this page is cablebrowser-2, released 2011-10-04