LONDON – Jordan's King Abdullah II (search) said Thursday his country would be willing to send troops to Iraq, potentially becoming the first Arab state to do so.
The statement marked a major shift in Jordan's policy toward Iraq. Abdullah had initially refused to send troops.
In an interview Thursday with the British Broadcasting Corp. television "Newsnight" program, Abdullah said he wanted to support Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (search)'s interim government, which recently assumed control from the U.S.-led coalition.
"I presume that if the Iraqis ask us for help directly, it would be very difficult for us to say no," he said during the interview in London. "Our message to the president or the prime minister is: Tell us what you want. Tell us how we can help, and you have 110 percent support from us."
There was no immediate reaction to Abdullah's comments, which will likely be welcomed by the U.S. government. It was unclear if the Iraqis would take Abdullah up on his offer.
"If we don't stand with them, if they fail, then we all pay the price," Abdullah said.
Abdullah said he had not discussed sending troops with the new Iraqi government.
"I would feel that we are not the right people," he said. "But at the end of the day, if there is something we can provide, a service to the future of Iraqis, then we'll definitely study that proposal."
Abdullah said he was encouraged by improvements in Iraq's security, but he acknowledged it was still the greatest problem facing the new administration. Jordan is dependent on Iraqi oil.
"I feel optimistic we have strong, courageous leaders in Iraq ... but the challenges that face them on security is going to be their major problem, and they are going to need everybody's help," he said.
Iraq borders both Jordan, which maintains close relations with the United States, and Syria, which staunchly opposed the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Syrian Information Ministry official Ahmad Haj Ali has said that what the interim Iraqi government should do is strive to get the U.S. troops to leave.
As of the end of April, there were 33 countries in addition to the United States with troops in Iraq, including Britain, Poland, South Korea, Hungary, Italy, Japan and Australia. Britain commands troops in the south east of the country while operations in the central south are headed by the Polish.
Spain pulled its troops out earlier this year and Norway is also removing its small contingent of soldiers.
Despite the promise of assistance, Abdullah said he perceived Iraq as a "sideshow."
"The main problem that feeds on all the instabilities that we see in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian problem," he said. "Until you solve that, then we'll never have the type of stability that the Middle East hopes for."