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Daniel Byman, The Brookings Institution, talks about the Middle East peace process and the debate concerning evidence of weapons of mass destruction, 6-05-03 - 2003-06-05


VOA-TV’s David Borgida speaks with Dr. Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution in Washington, who talks about the Middle East peace process and the debate concerning evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

MR. BORGIDA
And now joining us, Dr. Daniel Byman, he is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University here in Washington and an expert in terrorism and the Middle East, and also a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution here in Washington. Thanks, Professor, for being with us.

Let's begin with the Middle East. We'll talk about an area that you're familiar with, and that is the prospect and possibility of terrorism. No acts of violence in the last 24 hours and beyond. It appears that Prime Minister Abbas is at least effective so far in his pledge to try to restrain acts of terrorism against Israeli citizens. Do you think this will hold?

DR. BYMAN
Well, the safe answer is almost certainly not. The Palestinian Authority, even when it was strong, even when there was a Palestinian Authority that the Israelis hadn't dismantled, was not able to stop terrorism completely. So, the question is really not will Abbas fail but will he try and will he fail. And that leads to the bigger question, which is, if he does fail, will the Israelis, will other Palestinians, be willing to stay with him for a while in the hopes that he will succeed over time?

MR. BORGIDA
And the outposts that Mr. Sharon says he will begin to dismantle, will that have some mollifying effect on the Palestinians and their anger about Mr. Sharon and what they view as his vigilant militaristic approach to the crisis?

DR. BYMAN
Some Palestinians will see it as a sign of good faith. Many will just doubt that Sharon will ever be a real partner for peace. But it's the first step, and they'll wait to see if he'll make more steps.

MR. BORGIDA
What can the Bush administration do? You live here in Washington and you're obviously a thoughtful academic on this subject. What can the Bush administration do to keep this process moving? The President has invested political and personal capital in going to the Middle East. He is there. It has been praised, his appearance, by the European Union and others from around the globe. But is there a role for the United States to continue to play in the days and weeks ahead to make sure that whatever has been agreed upon by both sides is implemented?

DR. BYMAN
Certainly. And in fact I would say not only the days and weeks, but really the years. The Bush administration has to enter this for the long haul. They have to be there to provide cover for Israel when attacks occur, to convince Israelis that over the long term there will be a peace settlement and, as a result, they have to live with the prospect of insecurity for some time.

They also have to convince the Palestinians, convince other Arab states, that there is no alternative to getting a state but through negotiations, that using violence and terrorism will not work.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's shift gears to Iraq and the search continuing for weapons of mass destruction. You saw Mr. Bush, in his report to the Security Council. Do you think that in -- I used the phrase a moment ago -- the days and weeks ahead that we will find some clear evidence, what is being referred to as a smoking gun, of Saddam Hussein and his weapons program?

DR. BYMAN
Well, to be honest, I would have expected that if there were a smoking gun, we would have found something by now. What I think we will find instead are elements of programs. We will find documentation. We will find individuals involved in chemical and biological programs. However, as time goes on, as interviews with captured Iraqis and with volunteering Iraqis seem to produce relatively little in terms of actual weapon systems that were ready to go within a short period of time, I think the prospects of finding something that is incredibly dramatic diminish.

MR. BORGIDA
Well, let's talk about the atmospherics of this, because clearly in London and in Washington what is enough to yield to some proof of this program is a big question. And Tony Blair and the President of the United States are both being pounded to some degree by critics who say, this is why we went to war, where is the evidence?

DR. BYMAN
And this is always a problem when you're relying on very limited intelligence. In a way, strangely enough, the United Nations, the government in Britain, the Clinton administration and the Bush administration all agree on certain facts. The question was, what do these facts mean? Certain Iraqi weapons were missing. Certain Iraqi chemical stocks were missing. And the question was, were they still around? Had they been destroyed? Have they simply vanished through bureaucratic mistakes?

And people put the most dangerous gloss of concern on them naturally enough, but the evidence was relatively the same according to very different sources.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk, in the minute or so we have left, about this issue of intelligence, because there has been quite a bit of controversy about that, prompting CIA Director George Tenet to come out publicly and say he felt the intelligence was good and valid.

DR. BYMAN
The intelligence, again, was widely vetted. It was based primarily on the United Nations. But obviously much of what was predicted hasn't panned out, that sites that they thought were weapons of mass destruction sites were certainly not active ones, that many of the stocks they expected to uncover or even be used during the war simply were not. So, obviously, much of the intelligence was not necessarily biased but simply mistaken to varying degrees. The question is simply how much of it was.

MR. BORGIDA
A big question and a question that I'm sure people will be debating in the near future. The views of Assistant Professor at Georgetown University Dr. Daniel Byman, who is also a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. Thanks for being our guest today. We appreciate it.

DR. BYMAN
Happy to be here.

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