AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan is struggling under the burden of a half-million refugees from the Syrian civil war — a conflict that King Abdullah II fears could create a regional base for extremists and terrorists who are already "establishing firm footholds in some areas."
In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, the 51-year-old monarch also said the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad would not survive the revolt that already has killed an estimated 70,000 Syrians.
"I believe we are past that point, too much destruction, too much blood," Abdullah said.
As for his own country, Abdullah says reforms he has launched in Jordan will lead to a greater democracy and will serve as a model to other Arab states that have been undergoing two years of upheaval that have toppled longstanding leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
He wants Jordan's monarchy to "take a step back," explaining his vision of a new style in which future kings — and possibly himself — will serve as arbitrators between different political factions but still hold sway over foreign and defense policies.
Abdullah said Jordan is spending $550 million annually to host an estimated 500,000 refugees from Syria's civil war — about 9 percent of Jordan's population of 6 million — and 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
The king said humanitarian assistance is direly needed not only for 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."