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Interview with Tom Lippman - 2002-04-11


MR. BORGIDA:
Joining us live in our studio today to discuss the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, is Tom Lippman, currently associated with Washington's Middle East Institute, and he is writing a book about Saudi Arabia. Thanks so much for joining us today.

You heard Anthony Cordesman, in the previous package, with a very pessimistic view of the Middle East, and certainly in light of the latest terrorist attacks, notwithstanding the Powell trip. Do you agree with that pessimistic view, having been in the Middle East?

MR. LIPPMAN:
In the short term, I'm afraid I do, because both sides are dug in, both sides are vested in their positions, and neither side can prevail in a test of arms. And so, in the short run, I don't see what's going to break this down and at least put a stop to the violence.

MR. BORGIDA:
Well, that's a perfect segue. Let's talk about what might break it down. It could be, as a jumpstart perhaps, the Saudi Arabia peace proposal. What is it and what are its chances for acceptance?

MR. LIPPMAN:
The Saudi Arabia peace proposal essentially is really quite old wine in old bottles. It's a new iteration of Resolution 242, from the '67 War, which says that if the Israelis withdraw from all the territories captured in 1967 and make at least some gesture to the Palestinian right of return and make concessions on Jerusalem, they can have peace with all the Arab countries. The Saudis put a similar plan on the table in 1981 and articulated the same position in the late 1970's. What's different this time is that there is at least grudging acceptance by the other Arab countries.

MR. BORGIDA:
The Iraq factor, which was a piece that we heard a moment ago, too, and the use of oil as a weapon, how complicating in the picture of the turmoil that is the Middle East now is Iraq and, if you have a moment, the latest violence in Lebanon as well? There is a pot here boiling and it's getting more and more complicated.

MR. LIPPMAN:
Well, let's take Iraq first. I really think you should factor out the whole question of the Iraqi oil weapon. The Saudis have more than enough excess capacity to make up for any shortfall in the oil market that's caused by Iraq's announcement of the cutoff of oil. The complicating factor here is that people seem to think -- everyone seems to assume -- that the Bush administration is determined to put together a coalition to get rid of Saddam Hussein. And it immensely complicates, if it doesn't completely negate, efforts to win any Arab support for that to have what's going on in the West Bank taking place in full televised view of everyone in the Arab world.

MR. BORGIDA:
And Lebanon, there was a column in the Washington Post today in which Charles Krauthammer discussed how difficult the Lebanon situation is, with Hezbollah rockets firing in on Israel. That's another front that makes it very difficult.

MR. LIPPMAN:
There is really no excuse for Hezbollah to be doing this. Their position always was that their only objective was to get Israel out of Lebanon. Israel is out of Lebanon. There is no excuse. And the Lebanese Army should step up and put a stop to this. They won't do it because apparently the Syrians won't let them.

MR. BORGIDA:
You've covered some trips, I'm sure, of secretaries of state into the Middle East, and you know it's a very difficult proposition. Do you expect Secretary Powell to make some progress, to try to get the moderate Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, into the picture in a more active way, and perhaps get this thing going?

MR. LIPPMAN:
On almost all the trips I made with secretaries of state after the years when I was correspondent out there, the general trajectory was upward, was positive, even if there were setbacks such as the dispute over the Hebron withdrawal, you may remember, a few years ago. This time the general trajectory is not positive; the trajectory is negative. And what appears to be the total failure of General Zinni to even get their attention, let alone do what President Bush has clearly asked them, told them, to do, I think makes the Powell mission very dubious at this time. Some cosmetic outcome may emerge, but the situation is not positive.

MR. BORGIDA:
Anything that we haven't talked about, in the last minute or so, Tom, that you think could be used as a wedge to get peace talks moving and a cease-fire in place?

MR. LIPPMAN:
Here's what I think I would tell the Israelis. Everybody saw this morning that Queen Rania of Jordan led a demonstration in favor of the Palestinians. The Israelis have no better friends than the Jordanians. And I think the pressure on Israel from even people who are favorable to them might tip the balance.

MR. BORGIDA:
The views of Tom Lippman, former Washington Post reporter, covering the Middle East for quite some time, now writing a book about Saudi Arabia, and affiliated with Washington's Middle East Institute. Tom, thanks for joining us today.

MR. LIPPMAN:
My pleasure.

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