SAN FRANCISCO – Saying the Middle East is on the cusp of "great potential," King Abdullah II of Jordan paid a visit to the Bay Area to discuss topics ranging from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the Middle East's burgeoning young population.
Speaking for the second time in San Francisco in just nine months as a guest of the World Affairs Council of Northern California and the Commonwealth Club, Abdullah held court in front of a sellout crowd of more than 500 at the Fairmont Hotel.
He said the near-term could bring a real turning point in the fractured Middle East.
"Experience teaches us the historic breakthroughs are easier to spot after the fact than before," the 42-year-old ruler said. "But this much is certain: The next few, critical months will set the course and speed of progress in my region for a long time to come. A promising but extremely tough journey has begun."
Abdullah, who was crowned king in 1999, said the United States will play a critical role in that journey, both in its handling of Iraq and its continuing efforts to bring a peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians. He called on all of the people of Iraq to reject any interference in Iraq's internal affairs and help construct a constitution that represents all citizens.
"Let's keep the goal in sight: a sovereign, pluralistic, violence-free Iraq that gives its people a future," Abdullah said. "It is in all our interests — and it is the right thing to do — to work together to support and assist that process."
Abdullah said it is a goal of Jordan's to promote "unity, stability and development throughout the Arab world." He said the Middle East will achieve those goals only through a commitment to real changes — such as better educating the young.
"Fifty percent of the Middle East is under 18," he said. "The overwhelming majority of these individuals need countries, including Jordan, to reach out to them. All these young people want a chance at life."
The audience rewarded his 20-minute speech with a standing ovation.
"He laid the foundation of peace — justice, truth and love," said Robert Boody, president and founder of Royal American Institute for World Peace, who attended the speech. "He's a very genuine man."
Sam Bazzi made the commute all the way from the South Bay to see Abdullah, partly because of the aura he feels the king brings with him.
"He is very much accepted here in the West," Bazzi said. "People here are excited about him. I wanted to hear him speak."