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James Phillips interview - 2002-02-21


MR. BORGIDA:
And joining me now in our studio to talk about Iraq and Iran and their role in terrorism is James Phillips, a foreign policy expert at Washington's Heritage Foundation. Thank you, Mr. Phillips, for joining us.

These words, "axis of evil," that the President uttered January 29th, in his State of the Union Address, have been reverberating all over the world. The European allies haven't been particularly happy with it. Let's talk about two of the three countries that he included in that, Iraq and Iran. First, Iraq. There have been some reports that the Pentagon is contemplating what to do about Iraq in a fairly active way. What do you know about that, and do you think Iraq is at a place where the U.S. and the West should act?

MR. PHILLIPS:
Both Iraq and Iran are two of the seven states on the U.S. State Department's list of states that support terrorism. Iraq also is unfinished business for the United States, in the sense that Iraq signed a cease-fire agreement in 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, which it has not lived up to. It agreed to allow U.N. inspectors to go in and verify that its weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed. And then, after several years, it went back on that agreement. So, technically, Iraq now is in violation of the cease-fire agreement; technically, could be considered at war with the U.S. And I would argue that, from Saddam Hussein's point of view, he sees himself at war with the United States.

MR. BORGIDA:
When you say unfinished business, I can't help but follow-up and ask the question that jumps out at me initially, and that is: This President's father left unfinished business to some degree, at least his critics suggest that. Is there any relationship there in terms of the two Presidents, father and son, having a legacy? If this President were not to deal with the Iraq situation, would he be criticized, too, in the way that his father was?

MR. PHILLIPS:
I think it is said, and I would agree, that George Bush, junior, wants to avoid the mistakes of his father. And in Washington, it is perceived that one of George Bush senior's biggest mistakes was to back off in the war against Saddam Hussein, trusting that the Iraqi regime would live up to its obligations. And as we all know, Baghdad has not lived up to its obligations, after it was defeated in the Gulf War. And instead, during the course of the '90s, against the Clinton administration, it continually tried to throw off the U.N. sanctions and throw out the U.N. inspectors. So I think George Bush, junior, is going to be a lot more careful. If he does get into a conflict with Iraq, I think he is going to be much more determined to follow it through, to make sure that, if there is an agreement that ends the war, that that agreement is lived up to.

MR. BORGIDA:
But in geopolitical and in just plain domestic political concerns, the American public does view Iraq and Iran somewhat differently, I would think, looking back on Iraq and its violation in terms of chemical and biological weapons, and Iran, which, in recent years, seems to have been moving more toward the West.

MR. PHILLIPS:
I think there are many differences between the three countries in the axis of evil.

MR. BORGIDA:
Talk about that a little bit.

MR. PHILLIPS:
I think what President Bush was trying to signify is the axis of evil is the conjunction of supporting terrorism and also working towards weapons of mass destruction -- that is, chemical, nuclear or biological weapons. And one of the differences between Iraq and Iran, I think, is that Iraq has a regime that relies almost completely on terrorism against its own people. Saddam Hussein has many intelligence organizations that repress his people. He has used chemical weapons not only against Iran in the 1988 war, but he has used chemical weapons against his own people, the Kurds.

The Iranians, to some degree, have a limited democracy. And, there again, it is important to note some of the words President Bush used. He said that "some unelected few in Iran" were part of the axis of evil. And I think, implicitly, that means he is distinguishing between President Khatami, who was elected, and some of the hardliners who opposed President Khatami, who continue to try to export terrorism.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's talk a little more about Iran. The vessel that the Israelis seized weeks and weeks ago, containing weapons that were allegedly on their way to the Palestinian Authority, were apparently, according to the Israelis, purchased and brought from Iran. And that underscores to some that Iran has been in the business of proliferating arms and selling weapons to those who might be considered terrorists by some. Its role, Iran's role, is qualitatively different than Iraq's, isn't it?

MR. PHILLIPS:
Yes. Up until recently, Iran has been one of the most active state sponsors of terrorism. Iraq, because of the U.N. coalition, has been much more careful. But Iran has longstanding links to Hezbollah, in Lebanon; Hamas; and the Palestine Islamic Jihad in the Arab-Israeli conflict; and several other radical Islamic groups, the Saudi Hezbollah, which are believed to be responsible for the 1996 bombing at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 Americans.

In fact, in 1998, the Iranian Government admitted that a rogue cell of its own intelligence organizations were killing Iranians. Five Iranian dissidents were killed inside Iran by these rogue elements. And some of them have been apprehended and prosecuted. So it is not just Americans that have been killed by these terrorist groups, it is Iranians themselves who have suffered from terrorism.

MR. BORGIDA:
And there are some recent reports that Iranian intelligence agents have been seen inside Afghanistan, in an effort, some charge, to upset the interim government in Afghanistan. What do you know about those? Do you give them any credibility?

MR. PHILLIPS:
There have been credible reports of Iranian Revolutionary Guards and intelligence people in three areas, around Herat, a city in Western Afghanistan; Mazar-e-Sharif, in the north; and Bamian, in central Afghanistan, in a place, the Hazarajat, where there are tens of thousands of Afghan Shia. And Iran has longstanding ties to some of the anti-Taliban resistance groups and did support the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. In fact, Iran almost went to war with the Taliban in 1998, when the Taliban killed 11 Iranian diplomats at one of their consulates in Mazar-e-Sharif, when they took over in northern Afghanistan.

So there is no love lost between the Iranians and the Taliban. But what is worrying to the Afghans and to some in Washington is that Iran now appears to be trying to destabilize the Karzai provisional government in Afghanistan. And that is something that has raised alarm bells in Washington.

MR. BORGIDA:
Apparently, Mr. Karzai is going to be visiting Iran on Sunday, and I would assume that that kind of an issue would be on the agenda of Mr. Karzai with Iranian leaders.

The views of James Phillips, a foreign policy expert here at Washington's Heritage Foundation. Thanks so much, Mr. Phillips, for joining us today.

MR. PHILLIPS:
Thank you.

MR. BORGIDA:
We learned a lot.

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