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VOA-TV Interview - 2002-12-11


David Borgida talks with Professor Raymond Tanter, Visiting Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Tanter was also a scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute in Washington in 2001. He researched U.S. policy options regarding Iran at both think tanks.

MR. BORGIDA
Now joining us, Professor Raymond Tanter, a Visiting Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Mr. Tanter is the author of a book called "Rogue Regimes: Terrorism and Proliferation." Well, we couldn't have a better guest on a day like today, with all this news that we've just been reporting. Let's begin first with Yemen. What do you suppose is going on in those private conversations between U.S. officials and Yemeni officials about this SCUD cargo that was discovered in the Arabian Sea?

PROF. TANTER
Well, Mr. Borgida, one of the fun things that I've learned is that Yemen is not only a hotbed for terrorism, the home of al-Qaida's founder, but it also has a government that tries to cooperate with the United States in the war against terrorism and, to a much lesser extent, the war for the liberation of Iraq.

MR. BORGIDA
So, it's a balancing act for the Bush administration in a way, in terms of Yemen.As we noted in our story, we want Yemen's help on the terrorism front but, at the same time, we know that terrorists could be using that country.

PROF. TANTER
That's correct. Yemen is the place, in Aden, where the USS Cole was bombed in October of 2000, but also Yemen is the place where the government is trying its best to cooperate.And therefore, when this government orders -- secretly, I might add -- SCUD missiles from North Korea, you just have to let those missiles go in.

But the story behind the story is that North Korea is the major proliferator of missile technology in the world. It is in violation of the Missile Technology and Control Regime, which it probably says it hasn't a need to abide by, though.

MR. BORGIDA
What do you suppose draws terrorists to Yemen? You've been there. What is it about that country?

PROF. TANTER
It's like the Wild West. And it's a place where Osama bin Laden began. And it is a place, therefore, where he has many adherents in the rural areas. But I suspect that he doesn't have many followers in Sanaa and in Aden.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk a little bit now about the situation in Iraq. And we're just delighted that you have such a broad range of experience; you can help us through some of this. The declaration that Baghdad has presented is being reviewed. How long do you think it is going to take Security Council members and others to review this, and the U.N. generally, to come up with some assessment of what Baghdad is telling the world?

PROF. TANTER
One of the things that I've learned is that there is a proposal/counterproposal sequence in diplomacy. And in that proposal/counterproposal sequence, you don't want to get bogged down in the details. And what Saddam Hussein wants to do is to play the game of delay and denial. And the United States should not get into this game of whether or not the declaration that Iraq has put forth compares with the American intelligence, British intelligence, and with the inspectors' database. All of a sudden, you have four or five months, and the lawyers are parsing every word, trying to figure out which database is more valid.

MR. BORGIDA
But in a way, the devil is in the details, as they say. And we need to know exactly what Baghdad is saying, right?

PROF. TANTER
Well, the devil is really not in these details of getting bogged down. The devil is in the fact that Iraq is in noncompliance and, I think, in material breach already because of the omissions concerning the nuclear weapons program that Iraq must have because of the fact that General al-Saadi is the one who stood up and said that "we have made considerable progress in respect to a nuclear weapon device."

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk a little bit about those inspectors now. As we reported, new inspectors are coming into the country. There had been some criticism in some quarters that the initial group of inspectors were relatively inexperienced, perhaps, as some have suggested, unable to do a wonderful job at this. What is your view on that?

PROF. TANTER
I don't think the experience of the inspectors is at issue. Iraq is a country of 24 million-plus individuals. It is the size of the State of California. Even if you had experienced inspectors, how are you going to cover 900 sites in a place like the State of California, where Iraq's Saddam Hussein has had four years to hide all of the material in bunkers and in his 10 or so palaces?

MR. BORGIDA
So far Iraq says that you're not going to find anything. The inspectors haven't found anything. Do you think that in the weeks and perhaps months to come something will be found, or is Iraq at this point, as you're arguing, so careful at moving whatever it has around that inspectors won't find them?

PROF. TANTER
I don't think the inspection is the key. The key here is the fact that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction that he has not accounted for. The documents that he destroyed, or he had his people to destroy, that said he destroyed equipment are the key here. It's almost like "The dog ate my homework," in the sense that the documents were destroyed and therefore you can't verify that the equipment was destroyed. And that is, I think, the grounds for assessing material breach on the part of Iraq.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk a little bit about the neighborhood there. The U.S. and Qatar have worked out some defense agreement. How important is it at this point in time for the nations around Iraq to work together with the United States?

PROF. TANTER
Well, Qatar is a hugely important country for the United States. It has a 15,000-foot runway, which is the longest in the Middle East. It has the command-and-control center there which is almost second to none. I think it's even better than what the United States built in Saudi Arabia. And the Qataris are very neighborly, in the sense of not interfering with what the United States is trying to do with respect to the buildup of military forces to coerce Saddam, so that war is not inevitable.

MR. BORGIDA
What about Turkey?

PROF. TANTER
Turkey is important but not as important as the countries in the south. Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman are I think far more important. Turkey is important from the point of view of allowing the United States to base some ground troops there to detract Iraq, so that Iraq is splitting its forces between the south and in the north. Turkey is also important from the point of view of the airbase at Incirlik, where America has conducted its operations to Provide Comfort for the northern Iraqis.

MR. BORGIDA
Professor Tanter, it seems that Saddam Hussein may have been mindful of his neighborhood recently, when he essentially apologized to Kuwait for Iraq's actions a decade ago. Is that your read of that? Did that surprise you when you heard that?

PROF. TANTER
Time out here. I don't think that Saddam Hussein apologized for anything. He said: I'm sorry that I had to invade you; the United States made me invade you because America was about to take over Kuwait. So, therefore, I seized Kuwait first.

No one believes that except the conspiracy theorists who are, by the way, abundant in the Middle East. But this is not true. The United States was not about to invade Kuwait. Saddam invaded Kuwait. And in fact, the Foreign Minister of Kuwait said that Saddam Hussein ought to come clean on this one.

MR. BORGIDA
The views and insight of Professor Raymond Tanter. Thank you so much. You are a Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. We are delighted that you could join us.

PROF. TANTER
Thank you.

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