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Dateline: US Need for Support from Moderate Arab States - 2001-09-26

Dateline: US Need for Support from Modertate Arab States Judith Latham Washington

Middle East analysts agree that it is imperative for the United States to garner the support of moderate Arab states in the worldwide struggle against international terrorism. On today's Dateline, Judith Latham spoke with two experts on U.S.- Middle East relations, the Moroccan Ambassador the the U.S. and the former foreign minister of Jordan.

The president of the Middle East Institute says terrorism is a threat to everyone in the region. Edward Walker, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, was Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs until May of this year. "It is something we must come together and deal with. I wouldn't exclude any country. I fully expect one hundred percent cooperation from the Egyptian authorities," Mr. Walker says. "They have been fighting this particular brand of terrorism for a long time. They have no sympathy for the mass murder of civilians because, indeed, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad is as much a threat to the stability of Egypt as bin Laden's organization is to us."

JL: A number of the people in the bin Laden camp are Egyptians. This must speak to some undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the United States.

EW: You're over-emphasizing the depth and spread of a very small group of malcontents. You'll recall that we had this same problem in the early '90s in Egypt. And the United States and Egypt worked together to eliminate the problem. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad's primary objective is to get rid of the government in Cairo; just as bin Laden's organization's primary objective is to get rid of the government in Riyadh. America is a target for two reasons. First, they see America as the protector of these regimes. And the second reason is they don't like democracy, equal rights, social justice, and so on. We represent a threat to their way of life.

JL: Do they see the United States as secular?

EW: Absolutely. Their premise is that governance belongs in the hands of religious authorities. And we are the contradiction of that so we represent a threat.

JL: What kind of support do you see Egypt bringing to an international coalition?

EW: They have capabilities, and we have profited by sharing of intelligence. We'll want to see some cooperation on monitoring cash flows.

JL: And in the case of Jordan?

EW: Jordan has fewer resources, but certainly has a very capable and effective intelligence operation.

JL: Do you sense a warming in the relationship with Syria over the issue of terrorism?

EW: It's too early to say. We have had a very warm and open letter from President Bashar al-Assad. When I've met with him in the past, I've been extremely impressed with him. And this may be an opportunity for us to put the past behind us and to open up a new chapter. Certainly, we should be probing and seeing if that is the case. And, not just with Syria. Let's take a look at the relationship with Iran, with Libya, and with others, and see if we can turn this awful event into something that actually works to our benefit and to the benefit of these countries."

JL: Former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Edward Walker is President of the Middle East Institute in Washington.

Career Foreign Service Officer Nick Veliotes served as U.S. Ambassador to Jordan and Egypt and was deputy chief of mission in Israel. He was also assistant secretary of state for the Near East and South Asia during the Reagan administration. Ambassador Veliotes says he would include Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the Gulf States in the list of moderate Arab states.

NV: It excludes Iraq, Libya, and Syria I'd put sort of in between. The Jordanians have a long history of dealing with terrorism. It has been aimed at their government and their leader. And it has occasionally succeeded. Secondly, King Abdullah is the only head of state that has ever been seen on live television leading an assault on a terrorist group that had taken over a hotel in Jordan. Where they could help us is the psychological support of being a Muslim state supporting the United States. The Hashemites [i.e. rulers of Jordan] claim direct descent from the Prophet Mohammed and his Quresh clan in Mecca. The second thing they can do is to provide us with intelligence. You'll recall that the Jordanians have already cooperated with us. We worked with them in aborting a plot that was designed to kill hundreds, if not thousands, during the millennial celebrations in Jordan.

JL: Egypt has had its own threat of terrorism and radical "Islamist" movement.

NV: Egypt can also play an important psychological role. It's not only the largest Arab country. It's the home of most influential Sunni Arab institution of higher learning Al-Azhar. When the Sheikh of Al-Azhar [the leading institution of Islamic learning] denounces bin Laden's actions, it helps to discount bin Laden's fatwas. The Egyptians would be very important with regard to intelligence sharing. Don't forget that the people like Sheikh Abdul-Rahman, who was the spiritual godfather of the first attempt on the World Trade Center, was in Cairo and was actually forced to leave Egypt.

JL: So, in fact, many of the terrorists whether you're talking about Osama bin Laden who was originally a Saudi subject or the Sheikh who was an Egyptian national are outcasts from their own nations.

NV: Yes, as we're seeing in the outpouring of support.

JL: Because of the long-term support for the state of Israel, do you see a cleavage between the so-called "man on the street" and the leaders of moderate Arab governments?

NV: It's not American support for Israel. It's the perceived American support for continued occupation and suppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

JL: If it becomes necessary for the United States or for the alliance to go into Afghanistan militarily and innocent people are adversely affected, what is that likely to do to the support of moderate Arab states?

NV: If you're talking about a long-term American-led siege and pictures of death and destruction, it will strain the ability of the Arab moderate states to support us."

JL: Nick Veliotes was a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Near East and South Asia. He spoke with us from his home in Washington.

Abdessalam Majali, the former foreign minister of Jordan, says that terrorism has afflicted the Jordanian state through much of its history and Jordan therefore can be of help in the current struggle. "From the days of King Abdullah I, who was assassinated by terrorists, and two prime ministers, one of them my cousin, and many other officials. And we still suffer," he says. "I think information between the various security agencies can help both countries."

But the former Jordanian foreign minister warns that the United States should guard against an emotional response and instead approaches the problem analytically, taking care not to punish the innocent along with the guilty. The Moroccan ambassador to the United States, Abdallah el-Maaroufi, says that his country has always been a staunch supporter of America. And both countries share "values of toleration, moderation, and peace." The Ambassador also says Morocco will continue to play a role in combating international terrorism. "We're convinced that the fight against terrorism will be long and drawn out and will require great patience and great care to pursue the guilty but to avoid hurting the innocent," he stated. "It will also require determined effort on the part of all members of the international community to address the political, economic, and social problems and grievances that can lead to extremism, desperation, and sometimes terrorism. It's also clear that the struggle against terrorism is not a struggle against Islam, which is a religion of tolerance and peace that values the sanctity of human life."