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Interview with Professor Daniel Byman


VOA’s David Borgida speaks with Professor Daniel Byman, who is the Assistant Professor of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. Prof. Byman joined us to speak about terrorism and the Middle East.

MR. BORGIDA
Joining us now, Professor Daniel Byman, of Georgetown University's Security Studies Program. Dr. Byman is also a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution here in Washington. Thanks for joining us. A lot to talk about. I would like to focus on Iran and Syria for our segment. We have talked a lot in recent days on this program about what's going on inside Iraq.

Tell us, Professor Byman, a little more than we heard in a previous report about this pro-Saddam Iranian group that is operating inside Iraq. Who are they?

PROF. BYMAN
For almost two decades, Iraq has supported the anti-Teheran Mujahedin-e Khalq. They are a group of several thousand fighters that have a somewhat strange combination of fascism and Islamism. And they have been trying to topple the clerical regime. In the 1970's, they were very anti-American as well, and they were placed on the Terrorism List by the United States in 1997. They are responsible for numerous cross-border attacks in Iran and several attempts at killing Iranian regime figures outside the country as well.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk for a moment now about Syria. We talked about in the report previous to this that Secretary Powell was planning to go to Damascus. No date certain at the moment. But what is on his agenda? What might we speculate that he will have to do to get Syrian officials to, I guess in his view, cooperate more with Washington?

PROF. BYMAN
Secretary Powell is going there, I think, to drive several points home. First is that the United States wants Syrian support, or at least not opposition, in Iraq with any new government. The second is that Syria's support for the Lebanese Hezbollah must stop or at least be curtailed. And the third is that Syria needs to go back to the peace table and stop supporting anti-Israel Palestinian groups.

I think the Secretary is trying to build on American prestige or credibility in the region in the wake of the successful toppling of Saddam's regime.

MR. BORGIDA
Usually, Professor, in the world of diplomacy, when these talks are held, there is leverage, power, conveyed, delivered, threatened, warned, in some way. What does the Secretary of State have to give to Syria or to withhold from Syria to accomplish what he wants to see accomplished?

PROF. BYMAN
There are several potential levers. Of course, there is the implicit threat of military force, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops nearby, and quite bellicose rhetoric coming from some members of the administration. In addition, the United States has cut off the illicit oil supply that was going from Iraq to Syria. And there is the threat of additional economic and political penalties as well.

MR. BORGIDA
How hopeful are you, Doctor, that in the weeks and months ahead Iraq, given what we've talked about, that is some presence of pro-Saddam Iranian groups and of course the complicating factor of Syria and its role, how confident are you that the Iraqis themselves, in the weeks and months ahead, can find the stability and security and order that they need to establish a new government?

PROF. BYMAN
Well, you used the time period weeks and months. I would say months and years might be more appropriate. It's going to take a while to develop habits of trust, habits of democracy. But with a strong security presence from the outside, I think it can be done. We just need to give it plenty of time.

MR. BORGIDA
Are you convinced that the humanitarian side of things can work out? Because it still remains, as Bush administration officials have said, a fairly insecure environment.

PROF. BYMAN
The security issues are ones that can be resolved, I think, within a couple of weeks, in terms of simply making sure coalition forces make security rather than finishing the war their priority. And they can do that now that the war is essentially over.

Also, NGO's are starting to rush to the country as well. So, I think we'll see a dramatic turnaround in the humanitarian situation fairly soon.

MR. BORGIDA
Well, we can all hope that that is in fact the case. Professor Daniel Byman of Georgetown University here in Washington. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. Thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

PROF. BYMAN
Happy to be here.

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