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Interview With Gloria Macapagal Arroyo; Will World Economic Forum Actually Deal With Tough Issues?

Aired February 2, 2002 - 04:30   ET


RICHARD ROTH, HOST: From Kabul, Afghanistan to the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria, what a difference a week makes. We concluded our around the world journey with Secretary-General Annan. Now we're here at the World Economic Forum in Manhattan for the 3,000- global elite, a lot of talking here, but for the issues on our program, the Davos is in the details.


To stay neutral, we've moved our microphones outside on the streets. Welcome to DIPLOMATIC LICENSE. I'm Richard Roth. This is the first economic conference since September 11 on a global scale, but the terror fight concerns many of the guests here namely the offspring of a president. No, not George W. Bush, but President Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines.

CNN's Maria Ressa takes a look.


MARIA RESSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Barely five feet, she's petite; but this Philippine president has a fighting spirit. Last year Gloria Macapagal Arroyo resigned as vice president to protest corruption, helping trigger a people-power revolt which brought her as her nation's new leader.

Soon after, she declared all-out war against the Muslim extremist group, the Abu Sayyaf. Notorious for kidnappings and beheadings, it is linked to al Qaeda. After eight months of a grueling guerrilla war, Filipino troops have narrowed the chase to a small slice of Basilan, the hostages down to three, Americans Martin and Gracia Burnham and Filipino Deborah Yap.

Among the first leaders to support the U.S. war on terror, Mrs. Arroyo took another step in fighting terrorism in her country, taking scheduled training exercises between American and Filipino troops to the island of Basilan -- war games, where troops will use live bullets and hit live targets.

That has brought nationalists and leftist groups out on the streets of America's only former colony in Asia. The military takes a pragmatic view it will get hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and equipment, help in fighting the different armed groups in this country. Aside from the Abu Sayyaf, there are Muslim separatists groups, the MILF and MNLF, and the communist New People's Army.

(voice-over): Mrs. Arroyo says fighting terrorists is taking resources away from her main enemy, poverty. The sooner she can wipe out the Abu Sayyaf, she says the sooner she can get on with her over- arching goal, to get the economy back in shape and give her people a better life.

This is Maria Ressa for DIPLOMATIC LICENSE in the Zamboanga City, the Philippines.

Back to you, Richard.


ROTH: Thank you very much Maria, and with us is President Arroyo of the Philippines. Thank you very much for joining us here on DIPLOMATIC LICENSE. Maria mentioned just now that you'd like to clean up the terrorism issue to move on to your top priority, the economy; but is it going to be that easy?

GLORIA MACAPAGAL ARROYO, PRESIDENT OF THE PHILIPPINES: Well it's going to be easier now. Before September 11 we were fighting terrorism in our southwestern Philippines, and it was a lonely fight. However, we were able to contain it now in one island in that part of the Philippines. But after September 11 and after the creation of the global coalition against terrorism, now we have allies, and I believe now it will easier with allies.

ROTH: What is the connection between the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, it stands for "Sword of God," I believe.

ARROYO: "Bearer of the Sword."

ROTH: Bearer of the Sword. What's the true connection to al Qaeda? Is it really there, or is this just an armed group of criminals?

ARROYO: We have evidence of their connection until 1995. In 1995, we had evidence of the brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden being in the Philippines, living in the Philippines. We had evidence of front organizations set up in the Philippines. And we uncovered evidence about, which would help the U.S. with -- about the perpetuators of the World Trade Center bombing.

But after we helped the U.S. convict those felons, then the brother-in-law left, the front organizations closed up. I believe that they did not find the Philippines a good place for international terrorists -- a hospitable place. It's still not a hospitable place, however we do know that there are terrorist cells all over the region.

But it doesn't matter whether they're (UNINTELLIGIBLE) connected to al Qaeda or not. What matters is that there's an international coalition against terrorism, which means that we fight them wherever they are.

ROTH: Now, how do you feel to be president of a country which the U.S. is sort of opening up the second front on after Afghanistan?

ARROYO: Well, I don't consider it a second front. As far as we were -- as far as we are concerned, the U.S. joined us, the world joined us, our neighbors joined us because we were fighting terrorism in southwestern Philippines even before September 11.

ROTH: What is it going to take? How long will the U.S.', quote, "joint exercises with your country's forces" take to clean up the pockets of Abu Sayyaf?

ARROYO: You see, under our treaties, every year we have joint exercises. Now this particular joint exercise is, upon my suggestion, has taken on a module (ph) that will improve the capability of our soldiers to fight terrorism. This particular module (ph) is six months long.

ROTH: You're aware of the Vietnam analogies people are drawing. Is this overblown speculation? People talk about jungles, difficulty in seeing two feet ahead of you on Basilan Island where the search for Abu Sayyaf is. Is this going to be something like that down the road?

ARROYO: Definitely overblown. First and foremost, the U.S. troops will not be engaging in combat. And secondly, the region today is very different from the region in Vietnam -- in the time of Vietnam. That was the Cold War. And you were talking about proxy wars and all of those things, but this time we're talking about an international coalition where the enemy is terrorism.

ROTH: But it does look like Southeast Asia seems to be where there's a lot of focus now by U.S. officials. Not just your country -- Malaysia, Singapore, the recent arrests, the famous videotape now taken outside of installations. What do you see happening in Asia regarding the fight against terrorism?

ARROYO: Well, as I said earlier, we do hear and get reports from intelligence that there are terrorist cells all over the region. And so, aside from having allies in other parts of the world, among ourselves in our region, we are also helping one another.

For instance, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have an operational trilateral agreement to help one another fight the terrorism that is in our common seas.

ROTH: Critics say that it's a violation of the Constitution.

ARROYO: It's not the violation of the Constitution. The Constitution says that troops can be in the Philippines if there's a treaty that provides for it, and we have two treaties with the United States.

The issue is whether soldiers will do combat. And I have said that U.S. soldiers will not do combat in the Philippines; not because it is a constitutional issue, but because it's a policy matter.

ROTH: There are like several hundred, at best, of Abu Sayyaf. Is this a good attempt to get some U.S. arms, get some U.S. money pumped into the economy? I mean, you've heard the story that every small country or big country which has problems is saying, let's hope there's a terrorist connection to our country, it'll bring the U.S. in and media and dollars and get some help for some of our other problems.

ARROYO: Well, year-in and year-out, because we are long-term allies of the U.S., part of our treaty alliance has been the annual exercises. Part of our alliance has been assistance from the U.S. with regard to military training, equipment, materials, intelligence. So this is not a way to get it, because we do have it. So it is a way to increase the capability of our soldiers to fight terrorism.

ROTH: Lot of demonstrations in the street, American flag burning. We've seen these scenes before. You listen to the people on a lot of issues. Is this a small minority that's protesting, or is this something that you're going to keep an eye on that they're justified in, perhaps, in saying, we don't want American influence back here, which Philippines (sic) voted out the U.S. troops out before.

ARROYO: Definitely a small minority; 86 percent of the people in the latest survey support my policy decision to adapt our annual joint exercises to fighting terrorism. And even the National Security Council, which is made up of executive and congressional leaders that are in charge of security, including the opposition, have supported my position.

ROTH: Though you want to move on to the economy, do you see this, perhaps, as the defining issue and opportunity of your now- second year and, thus, your fist term in office?

ARROYO: I believe that the war against terrorism and the war against poverty in these times of turmoil go together. So you -- when you fight one, you have to fight the other. So both of them -- both of them are the main fight in the Philippines and in the world today.

ROTH: Your country is, sort of, quite poor. What -- how would you rate your success in fighting poverty and improving the life of your people in that first year?

ARROYO: The first thing we have to do is to bring about the macroeconomic conditions to enable the investments to come and to build the jobs. And I think that we have achieved great success. Even if the whole world now sees many countries suffering from recession or negative growth rate, including our major trading partners and our neighbors, the Philippines achieved a 3.7 percent GNP growth rate and a 3.4 percent GDP growth rate.

ROTH: Cardinal Sin, who's been quite influential in judging presidencies in the Philippines, seems to not let up in his analysis or criticism sometimes of your administration, preferring that you do take the media or use the photo opportunities with people you see in poor communities. And you vowed, I think, to stop taking the media along. Is that going to be a part of your administration now, more quiet work behind the scenes?

ARROYO: Well, I really believe in quiet work behind the scenes. It's just that the media follows me wherever I go.

But I fully agree with Cardinal Sin. And incidentally, he is not always critical of me; in fact, he's very supportive of me. And I agree with him that it makes my work easier when I talk with the poor and we talk to each other rather than to the media.

ROTH: Does this American return -- what does it mean, the Americans coming back to the Philippines?

ARROYO: The Americans have been going to the Philippines every year under our treaty agreement, so this is not...

ROTH: But such a high profile return like this.

ARROYO: It's high profile because the war against terrorism is high profile. And we have fashioned the training exercises for this year to increase the capability to fight terrorism. That is what it means.

It means that what used to be our lonely fight has now become a fight with allies. It means that hopefully, at last, in southwestern Philippines we will be able to find peace. And it means also that we should now be able to work towards accelerating the battle against poverty.

ROTH: What have you accomplished, and what do you hope to accomplish at this World Economic Forum? Is it just a lot of talk, or is something accomplished?

ARROYO: In the World Economic Forum here, as in Hong Kong in the East Asia summit, I have brought the message that now that we have been successful in putting together a coalition against terrorism, and now that the military victory seems to be inevitable, we shouldn't let this coalition drift away. We should, in fact, mobilize it now in order to fight poverty.

ROTH: President Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines, thank you very much for appearing on DIPLOMATIC LICENSE.

ARROYO: Thank you.

ROTH: Coming up, our CNN DIPLOMATIC LICENSE regulars from two locations, Afsane Bassir Pour of "Le Monde" and James Bone of the "Times of London" will be analyzing the World Economic Forum and other issues such as terrorism.



ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I decided that in my own little pocket, I should make a change; I should change it. And I was not alone. Our people decided. But our people were alone in our struggle, and then the world help us. We just got rid of one menace when other menaces invaded us -- terrorism.


ROTH: He was a student, he said, when the Soviets invaded his country. Afghanistan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who was just in the mountains a few months ago with the Northern Alliance, now he's here in New York in rather plush surroundings at the World Economic Forum.

Our next two guests are used to both of those types of terrain. Afsane Bassir Pour of "Le Monde" is in our New York bureau. James Bone of the "Times of London" over at our U.N. encampment.

Of course, the foreign minister and the interim leader of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai were both at the United Nations on Wednesday with a more urgent appeal. They're looking for more troops from the Security Council with a bigger mandate. Afsane, are they going to get it?

AFSANE BASSIR POUR, "LE MONDE": Well he certainly put them on a spot by because he floated the idea in Washington and had gotten a negative reaction. But now he's actually asked for this course. For the moment, the West is saying to the Europeans basically that no, they are not going to extend the mandate outside of Kabul and they're not going to add another -- the figure varies from 10 to over 35,000 more soldiers.

But they're not going to leave Afghanistan, and there is talk of a rapid reaction force, in which the French and the British troops will participate, which will go wherever there seems to be trouble, and the Americans apparently have accepted to give air support to this kind of action. So you know they're not ...

ROTH: James.

BASSIR POUR: ... completely leaving.

ROTH: All right James.

JAMES BONE, "TIMES OF LONDON": Well I mean the first thing to say, which is of course is that the war isn't over. I mean first of all Osama bin Laden hasn't been found nor has Mullah Omar, and secondly, the various regional thieves or warlords are still fighting with each other.

So it's not really right territory for peacekeeping force over the whole country. And I think it's possible that the U.N. will actually establish small regional outfits in half a dozen cities, but there would be a question of maybe, you know, a couple of hundred more troops. Nothing like these thousands that people who seem to be speculating about.

BASSIR POUR: But anyway Lakhdar Brahimi, Secretary-General special envoy to Kabul will be -- should be arriving in New York on Sunday night and will brief the council on Monday, and apparently he is also going to support an extended mandate for the force called Easop (ph). ROTH: Well, without giving too much away, Mr. Brahimi and other senior U.N. aides, who traveled with Secretary-General Annan to Afghanistan last week, are very passionate and very strong on the opinion that these big countries of Security Council have got to match their words. They can't just give cake to the Afghanistan people. They've got to show their support in a form of troops and expanding them to the rest of the country. But it's still a rather lawless land there, James.

BONE: Well I mean, Richard, for instance, take Japan; and Sadako Ogata was in town for this Afghan meeting last week, and you know Japan is probably the largest single donor, I think half a billion dollars they're going to give money to Afghanistan. But when asked, is Japan going to give any troops, no is the answer.

BASSIR POUR: But the Germans might, James. You must have heard that.

BONE: I'm skeptical of the fact that the Turks are going to take over the leadership of the whole force, not because I have any doubts about the efficacy of the Turkish military, just because the Turks, you know, might seen as party preens in Afghanistan. A good, maybe 20 percent of the population speaks Turk language that the Turks can understand, and the Turks may not be seen as neutral as the British, for instance.

BASSIR POUR: You know, actually this is a good point that James just brought up because experts tell us that it's true that right now Easop is loved by the Afghan people. They all want, as Hamid Karzai said, if the Afghans who want Easop to stay longer and to be extended -- but for how long? I mean, will they still be loved in six months by the Afghans?

BONE: Well you...

BASSIR POUR: As the French ambassador says, for now it's better to be loved by them than to be thrown out.

ROTH: All right, let's move onto another issue. Iraq, which is always there for the Security Council. It may not be as urgent right now, but as James and Afsane have pointed out, a couple of months down the road, once again that country and the lack of inspectors is going to be involved there.

The Iraqi government in Baghdad has a new messenger that they are using to send out some feelers on Amre Moussa, the head of the Arab league, talked to Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Vienna on Wednesday about the message, and then told us about it the next day in New York.


AMRE MOUSSA, SECRETARY-GENERAL LEAGUE OF ARAB STATES: We had a very serious talk, and I believe that the whole thing is worth trying. And we're not -- the secretary-general conveys all issues, especially that there should be no preconditions to the discussion coming from whatever side. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: All right, of course, we've seen this before. Iraq started negotiations with the United Nations and after one session it kind of ended, but Iraq was mentioned by U.S. President Bush in his State of the Union. James, does that change the atmosphere at all, the harsh rhetoric from Capitol Hill?

BONE: Well I mean that's what's really going on Richard. The Americans are putting Iraq on notice, unless they let in the weapons inspectors, who were forced out of the country several years ago, the Americans are going to go against Saddam, and Saddam obviously wants to try and muster his allies and seem to be putting, making peace overtures. So this Amre Moussa initiative, it's unclear how much of an initiative it really is, but it seems to be Saddam trying to reengage United Nations in discussions because of the now more and more imminent threat of American military action.

BASSIR POUR: Well, you know, the other interpretation of the axis of evil, as President Bush called it, the three countries, is that he mentioned Iraq, which is interpreted by some as America having decided to give up on these negotiations, and it means that these inspectors will never go back. This is what I'm hearing.

ROTH: All right, both of you will please stay right there. Coming up on DIPLOMATIC LICENSE, a taste of Davos in New York. You, too, could be here.


BONO, U2: It's great to be in Waldorf. And I am a spoiled rotten rock star, and I love the fantastic hospitality; and I drink champagne and I'll eat the cake. But there is a sense that if this is just a talking show, well, it's just a little close to Mary Antoinette.




RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: We're very hopeful that you'll look back on this conference as one of the best that you've ever had in a city that, although some times it's so big and so large, it seems maybe awesome, the reality is this is just a city of neighborhoods. And for those of you who come from all different parts of the world, I can find a relative of yours that lives somewhere in the city of New York.


ROTH: World Economic Forum co-chair, former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani. The September 11 terror attacks here in New York changed the venue and the theme of this conference. Now New York is hosting leadership in fragile times. Protesters outside, big business and policy leaders inside. It's a familiar international arena standoff.


DANIEL MITTLER, FRIENDS OF THE EARTH: These people are letting us down. These people are controlling the global agenda, and making sure that unsustainable development continues and sustainable development is stalled.



NIALL FITZGERALD, CHMN, UNILEVER PLC: It's an uncomfortable time. Leadership is a privilege. Anybody who's in a leadership position is very privileged anyway, but this is an uncomfortable time to be in a leadership position because you have to now commit to doing things which are difficult and perhaps different from what we've done before. So I am very hopeful -- I'm very optimistic of what will come out of this, providing we enter it in the right spirit.


ROTH: So you have a lot of poor countries with failing economies loaded with debt, and they're looking for help from the richer nations and the policy wonks here at the conference.

James, it's not the only conference going on dealing with this, right?

BONE: Well that's right Richard. There's the rival World Social Forum, which is being held in southern Brazil at the moment, and it'd be quite interesting actually to see if they move the Davos event out of the Skewers (ph) or out of the Waldorf Astoria down into southern Brazil. How many of the guys would go down there?

BASSIR POUR: You wonder how they can get any business done at all. You know, when you compare the sleepy little ski resort of Davos in Switzerland compared to all the distractions they have here in New York, there seems to be more talk of parties and celebrities than actual substance.

ROTH: All right. Well, I haven't been to any of them. James and Afsane, both of you -- haven't seen you yet on our return, but we'll get around in the hallways of the U.N.

Thanks for being here and thanks for watching everybody.

This is DIPLOMATIC LICENSE in New York, heart of Manhattan outside the World Economic Forum.

I'm Richard Roth. We'll see you next week.




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