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Interview with Ambassador David Ransom - 2003-05-16


After the terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom has been attempting to improve it’s reputation in an investigation to find the perpetrators of the bombing. Joining VOA’s David Borgida to discuss these events is Ambassador David Ransom, former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain.

MR. BORGIDA
And now joining us, Ambassador David Ransom, former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain from 1994 to 1997, and a veteran diplomat in the Middle East. Ambassador, thanks for joining us today.

AMBASSADOR RANSOM
Thank you very much, David.

MR. BORGIDA
I suppose as a veteran of Washington affairs I might refer to the Saudi news conference today as a charm offensive, given that the Saudis perhaps view themselves as having a public relations problem. This comes up fairly quickly after the horrible events of Monday. Do the Saudis have a public relations problem, and do they have a reason to want to make sure that their view gets out quickly?

AMBASSADOR RANSOM
They do. And charm is nice, but it's not going to make any difference at all if this investigation in Saudi Arabia is not performed in a cooperative and determined fashion. No matter where it leads, whether it leads to Saudis who are well placed and in the Kingdom or if it leads to Iran or anywhere else, quite clearly incidents like this are not perpetrated by one or two individuals on a Saturday afternoon. They are planned over time, financed, practiced, they require a lot of equipment, a lot of money. And that's got to be uncovered. That new base has got to be uncovered and destroyed.

MR. BORGIDA
Ambassador, we've talked about this subject with a number of guests, and I have to say that your answer strikes me as a bit perhaps angry. Are you suggesting complicity or anything more than that in this, or simply that it is time to take a determined look at how the Saudis have reacted in this context?

AMBASSADOR RANSOM
Well, I think the Saudis have made good first steps in publishing the pictures of Saudis whom they want and are seeking the cooperation of their own population. But the issue of the investigation that took place, it goes back to the attack on the al-Khobar barracks, when there were frequent complaints from American law enforcement authorities and diplomats that the Saudis had not been completely cooperative. I hope that's not the case this time. I hope the shock and dismay that has been caused in Saudi Arabia and the backlash against the al-Qaida will inspire the Saudi authorities to do everything necessary to track down the people who did this, no matter who they are or where they are.

MR. BORGIDA
Suggesting perhaps it may lead into the law enforcement community in Riyadh; is that perhaps what you might think?

AMBASSADOR RANSOM
I have no idea where it might lead. It might lead, for instance, to Iran, and then the Saudis could wonder what would be the consequences in terms of their own relationships and their stability if we find that al-Qaida was operating a cell and funding things in Saudi Arabia from Iran. There may be other Arab countries involved as well that we don't know about yet. And there may be groups inside Saudi Arabia whom the Saudis would find it embarrassing to disclose. We have to put these issues behind us, I think, and I hope the Saudis will do precisely that.

MR. BORGIDA
Ambassador, let's talk a bit about al-Qaida and your sense of the point that they are trying to make, striking with such violence. Just looking at the video again reminds us all that that was quite an undertaking. There were strong explosives used to take down those compounds. What do you make of al-Qaida sending a signal that it is still functioning in that part of the world?

AMBASSADOR RANSOM
Well, we destroyed the base al-Qaida had in Afghanistan. We've scattered these people and made it very difficult for them to operate. Terrorism requires bases. It requires places people can go for training and for rescue and for relief and for money and for all kinds of things. And they have to usually have the protection of governments in order to function in those bases. So, clearly, if this is al-Qaida and not some other group, they have been able to reconstitute enough of an operating base somewhere to pull off very large operations, involving hundreds of pounds of explosives, changes to automobiles, weapons, attacks on established guard posts, et cetera.

So, I think al-Qaida is not gone yet, no matter what we might like to think.

MR. BORGIDA
Now, your understanding of these kinds of warnings that we're hearing about in East Africa and beyond, in terms of the terrorist threat, they come from real communication sources, don't they, and these are legitimate concerns?

AMBASSADOR RANSOM
I'm not privy to the intelligence that is involved because I'm retired from the U.S. Government, but I take the remarks that I have seen in public to be indications that we have real information about other attacks being planned. And it would make me nervous to think so.

MR. BORGIDA
Ambassador David Ransom, former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain for several years in the nineties, thanks so much, Ambassador, for your views. We appreciate your time.

AMBASSADOR RANSOM
Thank you, sir.

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