AMMAN, Jordan -- Jordan's king warned Wednesday that a jihadist state could emerge on his northern border in Syria with Islamic extremists trying to establish a foothold in the neighboring country.
King Abdullah II 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.
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"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 warned that radicalization of Syria, together with the deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, could ignite the entire region.
"Another extremely dangerous scenario is the fragmentation of Syria, which would trigger sectarian conflicts across the region for generations to come," he said. "And also the huge risk that Syria could become a regional base for extremist and terrorist groups, which we are already see establishing firm footholds in some areas," the king added.
"All these are extremely dangerous threats. I have been warning against them all, especially the chemical weapons threat, since the beginning of the crisis," he said.
As for the humanitarian emergency, the king said assistance is direly needed not only to the host countries, like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey but also inside Syria, so that hearts and minds can be won before extremists fill the vacuum left by a failed Syrian state and mass exoduses are prevented.
He said faced with all these threats, Jordan is working on "contingencies to protect our population and borders, in self-defense."
But government officials and Jordan-based Western diplomats have said that this key U.S.-ally has been shopping around for Patriot missiles to be stationed near his northern border, should tensions across the frontier escalate.
He appealed to the international community to "to catch up and support Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to cover the increasing costs of hosting Syrian refugees."
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. "It's as if more than 30 million refugees flooded into the U.S., the majority having crossed in less than 12 months," he said.
He said that if the conflict escalated further, as is widely expected, he could see the number of refugees "almost double over the next six to eight months."
In parallel, he said, Jordan continues to exert its utmost "diplomatic efforts to assist in bridging gaps in the international community so that an agreement can be reached on an inclusive political transition that preserves the territorial integrity and unity of Syria."
Abdullah said the start of President Barack Obama's visit to the region opens a "window of opportunity" for restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The tour includes stops in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, the visit.