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Kissinger: 'We can't tolerate this'

Henry Kissinger
Henry Kissinger  

(CNN) -- Henry Kissinger, U.S. secretary of state and national security adviser during the Nixon administration, played a large role in U.S. policy during the latter part of the Vietnam War. He talked with CNN's Paula Zahn on Monday about last week's terrorist attacks on U.S. targets and offered his perspective on the road ahead.

CNN: Let's start off with the latest development. We know that Pakistan's top spy and a former ambassador to Afghanistan have gone to the Taliban and issued a demand: Give us Osama bin Laden in the next three days or face military action.

What's going to happen as a result of that demand?

KISSINGER: Well, I think it's an ultimatum, and if they refuse, there will certainly be military action. But I believe we have to go after the Taliban anyway. They've been supporting these terrorist activities all over the area and all over the world, and it isn't enough for them to give up one man, they have to dismantle the structure of terrorism.

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CNN's Paula Zahn talks to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger about U.S. policy in the weeks ahead (September 17)

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CNN: Do you have any confidence that someone can accomplish that? I think Madeleine Albright in the last hour said it's like cutting off the head of a snake and having all these other little parts trail behind.

KISSINGER: Well, in part, that is correct. But these groups require a base, they require money, they require organization, and if we can get them on the run and if they have to spend all their energy surviving, they can't plan these meticulously prepared attacks that we saw in New York and in Washington.

And it isn't only Afghanistan, there are countries like Syria that have bases, Sudan, some are probably in Algeria, and we have to put governments on notice that if they extend safe havens to terrorists, they will run the risks that terrorists do.

CNN: So are you telling me this morning that the United States and its allies might find themselves in the position of attacking Syria and perhaps Iraq?

KISSINGER: No, I don't think we have to attack Syria because Syria will close down these camps if they are brought under enough pressure.

Iraq, I would be open-minded on. If they have ties to any of these terrorist networks, they should be attacked.

CNN: Let's explore further the impact of Pakistan, now offering its support to the United States in exchange for retiring $30 billion worth of debt and some other things they want taken care of by the United States. There are folks like the Northern Alliance, the opposition front to the Taliban, that says don't trust Pakistan. Do you trust Pakistan?

KISSINGER: I don't know. I would judge countries by their performance now, not by their words. The American objective has to be to break up these terrorist organizations. I'm not saying that all had to be done with military force; for example, there could be a ban on travel to any country that has safe haven for terrorists, added to economic pressures.

But in the end these terrorist groups must have training bases; they prepare these things at great leisure, and it is dangerous for all of us, suicidal, to let them get organized, hit us, then take one retaliatory blow and come back two or three years later with another disruptive, murderous attack.

CNN: So while the Bush administration is exploring military options, it is working around the clock to build a number of different kinds of coalitions. Where do you think Russia is in all this?

KISSINGER: Well, Russia is in a very curious position, and I hope some of the reports that I have read aren't true, because no country has been -- I was in Russia in July and talked to many of their leading people. And their sense was of the danger of fundamentalists and terrorists; of course, they were thinking in part of Chechnya. Now they seem to be holding back a little bit, vis-a-vis Afghanistan because they must have some pleasure in watching the Americans get involved in Afghanistan.

But at the end of the day, all these countries have to understand that they are targets even before we are; we're just a symbol. When they went after us, it was a symbol to everybody else that if even America can be attacked, what chance do you people have? And that's why we need a broad coalition. But we cannot be made dependent on whether everybody agrees.

CNN: Secretary of State Colin Powell mentioned that an executive order that was put into place in 1976 on President Ford's watch that forbids assassinations is under review. If that is lifted, and if the United States and its allies can specifically target Osama bin Laden, who the president says is the prime suspect, how will that change the efforts in the months to come?

KISSINGER: Not much. We're not good at this. If this assassination order was interpreted that we couldn't bomb a building in which Osama is located, then it will free us for that sort of attack, but hiring assassins that go after individuals is not something Americans are very good at.

I support whatever Secretary Powell proposed, and altogether, I'm impressed by the decisiveness of the administration. So I don't think that will be the key element. The key element will be: one, whether we can generate a consensus; secondly, whether we will keep going after our initial, hopefully, success, because this is going to be a long effort as the president has said.

CNN: You said that, and Sunday we heard a number of cabinet secretaries repeat that message. What is it that the American public should be prepared for? I heard someone say a 10-year war.

KISSINGER: Well, it could be a prolonged war, but its intensity will diminish, and after a while it will be a mopping-up operation. And what we have to remember is, if we don't do it, we will remain permanently vulnerable. People who rely on us and others even who don't rely on us are going to be under an even greater threat than we are, and that means that the world will be dominated by terrorists, and we can't tolerate this.

CNN: One last question for you: Do you think U.S. intelligence knows where Osama bin Laden is today as we speak?

KISSINGER: Well, they probably don't know the street number, but they probably have a general idea of the region where he's located. And we ought to give some credit to our intelligence services because they've been under tremendous pressure from our domestic institutions, and they've had a tough job.

CNN: So you are not willing to say U.S. intelligence has failed America?

KISSINGER: No. I think U.S. intelligence has been -- if you look at one investigation after another, they have done as good a job as they could under the circumstances.

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