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Interview on Terrorism with Danielle Pletka - 2003-04-16


VOA-TV’s David Borgida speaks with Danielle Pletka, Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) about the recent terrorist arrests in Iraq.

MR. BORGIDA
Joining me now to discuss all this, Danielle Pletka, with the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington. Ms. Pletka, thank you for joining us.

The capture of Abu Abbas, how important is that from, I guess, a judicial point of view and perhaps even symbolically?

MS. PLETKA
Well, from both points of view. Justice is extraordinarily important to the victims of terrorism. It's also a lesson to others that years may pass, but you'll never be safe. You'll always be found. If you don't come to justice, justice will be brought to you. President Bush said that.

Symbolically, obviously, it's important to the family of Leon Klinghoffer, who was murdered aboard the Achille Lauro many years ago. But also it reinforces to us the fact that yes, terrorists were in fact being sheltered by Saddam Hussein. The accusation was true, and here is proof positive of that fact.

MR. BORGIDA
Now, U.S. forces are all over Iraq, looking for lots of things, including chemical weapons and biological weapons; that's another discussion. But might they be looking for other wanted terrorists who we might be celebrating the arrest of at some point in the weeks and months ahead? Is that part of the mandate, too?

MS. PLETKA
Without a doubt, they're looking for other terrorists. One of the first actions during the military course of the war -- which obviously we're still sort of at the end of -- but one of the first actions undertaken was the destruction of the Ansar al-Islam group that was sheltered in northern Iraq. They were associated with al-Qaida. The camp was destroyed. The members were either killed, arrested or pushed out to Iran, where they were given shelter.

Another Palestinian terrorist camp was found in southern Iraq. Clearly, there were a lot of camps; there are a lot of terrorists. I am imagining to myself that most of them have left, that they've either gone to Syria or to Iran, left in other ways. But one can hope that we are looking for them and, in fact, as we did yesterday, we will find them.

MR. BORGIDA
You mentioned Syria, and I can't help but follow up on the Syria card, if you don't mind. The United States has been warning Damascus to be careful whom it accepts in country and also expressing concern about its chemical and biological weapons program. Is this a serious diplomatic problem for the United States or something you think that Damascus is beginning to understand and can deal with?

MS. PLETKA
First of all, I would characterize it as a problem for Damascus. They have been tone deaf. Syria is a state sponsor of terror and has been for a very long time. Syria has also had a chemical weapons program for a long time. And Syria has been a through-station for terrorists and for weapons to terrorist groups, like Hezbollah.

But prior to the war they were warned. At the beginning of the war they were warned. During the war they were warned. And very quietly. We didn't hear about it. They were told to stop transshipping weapons to Iraq. They were told to stop taking Baath Party officials in. And they were told to stop arming and supplying terrorists with documents and then sending them into Iraq from Syria.

And notwithstanding that fact, they waited till late last week to close the Syrian-Iraqi border. They clearly have a problem in understanding what is to their benefit. And we have had to have this conversation with them. I am imagining that we are going to have to have it again, because they are not supporting, certainly not our interests, but even the best interests of the Syrian people.

MR. BORGIDA
And to be fair, Syria does deny many of the charges that have been leveled against it by the Bush administration.

MS. PLETKA
As did Saddam.

MR. BORGIDA
Thank you. To the situation on the ground in Iraq, we had a meeting in Nasariyah yesterday, on Tuesday. There is still a level of instability and insecurity in that country. What are your hopes for a process that will involve the democratization of Iraq? Will this be something that will be fits and starts? You're smiling already; I expect what your answer will be. But tell us a little bit about what your expectation level is in the weeks and months ahead in terms of the new Iraq.

MS. PLETKA
Well, I think the first thing that we all need to do is dispel the myth that somehow there are places that really can't be democratized, that somehow Muslims or Arabs, or, you know, those brown people over there, they can't understand democracy and liberty like we do, and they really don't want it. That's just not true. So, that's the first understanding is that we have a partner in the Iraqi people because they want something better for themselves.

But we are not going to be able to satisfy everybody. There were demonstrators outside the meeting in Nasariyah yesterday. Some of them were sponsored by the Iranian Government, to be sure. The Iranian Government has an interest in destabilizing. But, notwithstanding, some people are going to feel disenfranchised. You cannot satisfy all the people all the time. The same is true in the United States, in Great Britain, in France, and everywhere else.

But, on the other hand, if we are willing to work hard with the Iraqi people to create institutions, and we establish with them that in fact institutions and not individuals are the secret to democracy, and that then they will be able to withstand whatever political leader comes along, whatever economic crisis comes along, then I think that we can make genuine progress. There are going to be mistakes and there are going to be unpopular people who come to power. But, at the end of the day, the Iraqi people will be better served.

MR. BORGIDA
Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington, thanks so much for shedding some light on this for us. We appreciate it.

MS. PLETKA
Thank you.

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