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Interview with Ambassador Edward Walker - 2003-05-14


VOA’s David Borgida speaks with Ambassador Edward Walker, president of the Middle East Institute. Ambassador Walker is a veteran diplomat, having served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. He discusses the recent terrorist attacks in Riyadh.

MR. BORGIDA
Ambassador, it does appear that law enforcement officials in Riyadh at least had some dealings with this group of al-Qaida members who we believe at this point may have been responsible for the attack on the compounds in Riyadh. I would like to ask you first why, at least from our vantage point across the ocean, does it appear that we perhaps did not do the best job possible in pursuing this group and why they got away with it in such a bold manner during the day like they did?

AMBASSADOR WALKER
Well, for one thing, I think it's a vast improvement. The intelligence both of the United States and Saudi Arabia was honing in on the right targets and was giving us serious warning about events that were about to take place. As you noted, the Saudis had identified this group and had actually gone in to arrest them and captured a great quantity of explosives.

I would say that there was a failure there in execution, not in intelligence, and that perhaps there needs to be some serious work in training a counter-terrorism squad in Saudi Arabia. This is the kind of work we can help with, and we have done that in places like Egypt before. So, more work needs to be done, but it seems to be moving in the right direction.

MR. BORGIDA
But I would like to follow up, Ambassador. It would seem, given that the Bush administration is making anti-terrorism and its tracking of al-Qaida a major priority, that this was not a job well done.

AMBASSADOR WALKER
I agree that it hasn't been well done, but we are finding our way on this. I am quite sure that one of the impacts of this terrible tragedy will be that we will get 100 percent, or 110 percent, cooperation from the Saudis from now on. Because this attack is not just against us, it's against Crown Prince Abdullah. After all, it was at the Vinnell Corporation target, which is the Saudi National Guard, which is the Crown Prince's personal guards. So, I don't think we'll find any problems at all working with the Saudis now.

MR. BORGIDA
Now, years ago, in the Khobar bombing, U.S. intelligence officials did report that they were not getting the best of cooperation from the Saudi Government. Indeed, the Crown Prince, just hours after this bombing took place this time, denounced the attacks. Are you that hopeful that this will turn around and that the Saudis will come around and help in the investigation in a dramatic way?

AMBASSADOR WALKER
Well, there is a huge difference between al-Khobar, when we didn't even really know about al-Qaida in any detail, and now. I mean, we were looking at Iran at al-Khobar, not at the al-Qaida. And the Saudis weren't aware, as well, of the Saudi elements of al-Qaida. So, I think there is a huge difference between now and then. And I don't have any doubts that we're going to get full cooperation from the Crown Prince.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk about the impact of this attack on the peace process. We're expecting the Palestinian Prime Minister and the Israeli Prime Minister to meet on Saturday, which many people and observers of the Middle East peace process are looking forward to. Would you expect there would be some impact of this terrorism in the neighborhood on the process itself?

AMBASSADOR WALKER
I don't see a direct link between what al-Qaida is doing and the peace process. The peace process stands on its own. One of the key components of the peace process is support from Saudi Arabia and from Egypt in terms of convincing the Palestinians that not only do they have backing but that they should be actively engaged against terrorism. Here is where the Saudi message is going to be loud and clear: We can't afford terrorism. We Arabs can't afford terrorism anymore. It comes against us.

And so I think this, even in a marginal way or in an unusual way, will actually help the process.

MR. BORGIDA
As a former diplomat in the region, familiar with the details and the nuances in the Middle East, are you hopeful that the roadmap for peace will bear some fruit at the end of this long road, or are we still to have the same process of violence, diplomacy, violence and diplomacy that has characterized this region for so long?

AMBASSADOR WALKER
Well, I think it's time for everybody to step back and say, ‘what in the heck is the violence buying us?’ I mean, the Israelis are losing their sons and daughters. The Palestinians are losing their sons and daughters. Nobody is getting a full education. The whole region is deteriorating economically. It's time to stop this. And if the roadmap can help do that, then I think we ought to be pursuing it and the President ought to be pursuing it actively and forcefully.

I don't expect the deadlines to be met. We've never met a deadline in the Middle East yet. But certainly after our elections, I would expect a major effort to make this work.

MR. BORGIDA
Ambassador, thanks for your time.

AMBASSADOR WALKER
You bet. Thanks.

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