Jordan's King tells AFP Israel disrupting nuclear plans

King Abdullah II on Wednesday accused Israel of disrupting Jordan's nuclear energy plans and warned of sectarian violence spilling across the border from Syria, in a wide-ranging interview with AFP.

The king, whose country needs atomic energy to meet its energy needs and power water desalination plants, said "strong opposition to Jordan's nuclear energy programme is coming from Israel."

He also warned of a spillover of the Syrian turmoil into its neighbours, saying the risk is "looming closer."

"When we started going down the road of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, we approached some highly responsible countries to work with us. And pretty soon we realised that Israel was putting pressure on those countries to disrupt any cooperation with us," the king added.

"A Jordanian delegation would approach a potential partner, and one week later an Israeli delegation would be there, asking our interlocutors not to support Jordan's nuclear energy bid," King Abdullah said.

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

"Against this backdrop, I feel that those who oppose our peaceful nuclear programme for all the wrong reasons are furthering Israeli interests more efficiently than Israel could ever do," the king said.

An Israeli official in Jerusalem dismissed the charge.

"The king's accusations sound (like) a hollow excuse," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We were consulted and we always said that of course if this was done according to NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) regulations and supervision and everything, then fine, we have no objection."

Jordan, which imports 95 percent of its energy needs, is struggling to find alternatives to Egyptian gas, which normally covers 80 percent of power production.

Since 2011, the gas pipeline from Egypt to both Israel and Jordan has been attacked 14 times, with a consequent disruption of supplies.

With 92 percent of its territory desert, Jordan is one of the world's 10 driest countries and wants atomic energy to power desalination plants to overcome a crippling water shortage.

"Nuclear energy will be the cheapest reliable way to desalinate water," the king said.

The option the government seeks would cost about 3.5 billion dinars ($4.9 billion) "for a plant that would constitute one third of the total power capacity generated in Jordan today."

"The attacks on the Egyptian gas pipeline over the past two years have cost us already 2.8 billion dinars. That could have paid for almost one reactor," he said.

Amman is currently weighing an offer by a consortium formed by French nuclear giant Areva and Japan's Mitsubishi, as well as a proposal by Russia's Atomstroyexport, to build Jordan's first nuclear plant.

A joint venture between Jordan Energy Resources Incorporated and Areva discovered more than 20,000 tonnes of uranium in central Jordan in June.

The king also said he is "extremely worried about the risk of a fragmentation of Syria."

"Over the past few months we have witnessed an increase in sectarian violence," he said.

"This not only endangers the unity of Syria, but it could also be a prelude to a spillover of the conflict, into neighbouring countries with similar sectarian composition. We have already seen signals that this risk is looming closer."

UN investigators have said that growing numbers of victims of the conflict in Syria are being targeted because of their religion, while gross violations of human rights occur on a regular basis.

More than 27,000 people have been killed since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March 2011, according to rights monitors.

The king called for "a formula for a political transition where all components of Syrian society, including the Alawites, feel that they have a stake in the country's future."

"An inclusive transition process is the only way to stop the escalation in sectarian violence.

"It is in the best interest of the Syrian people, as it would preserve the territorial integrity and unity of Syria, and it is in the best interest of regional stability and the international community."

Jordan currently hosts more than 200,000 Syrians who have fled the violence.

"I have been saying all along that the issue is not the individual, but the system. If President Bashar were to leave tomorrow, but the system stayed, then what would the Syrian people have achieved?"

He said that not all Syrians in Jordan sought refuge.

"We have discovered that a few came here, not to seek safe haven, but to carry out other missions -- intelligence gathering on refugees, or schemes to target Jordan's stability and security.

"Let me simply say, the way Syria deals with its neighbours is one of the potential escalations that we are watching closely."

He said Syria has shelled Jordanian territory.

"So we are keeping our options open, if, for example, there are more escalations. Jordan will always act under the framework of international and Arab consensus, and in accordance with international law."

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