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Q&A WITH ZAIN VERJEE

Q&A

Aired August 7, 2002 - 12:30:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to Q&A. I'm Colleen McEdwards. Zain is off.

The debate about the United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia got a little bit hotter this week. "The Washington Post" reported that an analyst from the private Rand think tank suggested in a classified briefing that Saudi Arabia should be treated as an enemy.

So is a difficult international relationship now getting even more difficult? We're going to take a look at this on Q&A, and we begin with CNN's Jamie McIntyre.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. MIL. AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a presentation entitled "Taking the Saudi out of Arabia," the Rand analyst argued the United States should threaten to seize Saudi oilfields and to freeze the kingdom's financial assets if the long-time United States ally doesn't take steps to curb what the analyst characterized as "anti-American activities."

The Pentagon quickly distanced itself from the proposal, which was made before the Defense Policy Board, a high-level group that advises the Pentagon.

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECT. OF DEFENSE: He had an opinion, and of course everyone has a right to their opinion. It did not represent the views of the government. It didn't represent the views of the Defense Policy Board.

MCINTYRE: Nevertheless, the story is troublesome for the administration, because it highlights the ambivalence some in the United States government feel about the Saudi regime. The ruling royal family has always been a reluctant ally, fearing its close ties to the United States could fuel an Islamic revolution at home.

RUMSFELD: It's harmful, in this case, for example, because it creates a misimpression, that someone then has to figure out a way to correct.

MCINTYRE: During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Saudi Arabia hosted 1/2- million United States troops. But as the United States readies for another assault on Iraq, Saudi Arabia is balking.

Still, publicly, the Pentagon won't complain.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Saudi Arabia has -- I mean, it's been a partner for many decades in the region, and an important partner, and I think in terms of our work in Afghanistan and other support we've asked, they've been very forthcoming.

MCINTYRE: But the United States is already making backup plans to act without much Saudi support, installing a high-tech command center at this airbase in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, in case it can't use one in Saudi Arabia.

(on camera): Sect. of State Colin Powell called his Saudi counterpart to reassure him the United States does not see Saudi Arabia as an emerging enemy.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials privately expressed confidence that Saudi Arabia will provide help if the United States moves against Iraq, so long as the kingdom's rulers can deny publicly they are providing support.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCEDWARDS: And the Rand Corporation gave this response.

"The briefing prepared by Laurent Murawiec was not a Rand research project. It represents one personal contribution to an ongoing policy debate on which there are a wide range of views within Rand and elsewhere."

And the Saudi government had this to say. "Prince Saud described the bilateral relationship "as excellent in all fields." Prince Saud described as "pure fiction" the contents of a the briefing there, of the Rand Corporation, to United States Defense Policy Board."

With us to talk more about this, on the telephone, is Henry Kissinger, former United States Sect. of State. He was present at the Defense Policy Board meeting where the analysis was presented.

Dr. Kissinger, what makes you so certain that Saudi Arabia is not an adversary of the United States?

HENRY KISSINGER, FMR. U.S. SECT. OF STATE: First of all, I will not discuss what went on at the Defense Policy Board, and I believe that it is a matter of -- it is extremely bad taste and injurious to have matters of briefings and discussions in Washington then debated in the press.

So I will not discuss what I said at the board meeting. I will make a general comment about treating Saudi Arabia as an adversary.

Saudi Arabia has been cooperating with the United States for 30 years, on many items. Saudi Arabia is the principle state in the region. It has tolerated behavior by some of its citizens that are totally unacceptable to the United States and that should be ended, like the transfer of funds that eventually found their way into al Qaeda and like the creation of religious schools all over the world which, in time, have turned into centers for recruitment of terrorism.

Those two actions are totally unacceptable and the administration is fighting them strenuously.

On the other hand, they are not actions of the government of Saudi Arabia, and they reflect, in part, the weakness of the Saudi Arabian government to control all of their population, which is not strange in that region.

MCEDWARDS: But Dr. Kissinger, is this a much harder argument to make post-September 11th? I mean, Osama bin Laden is from a Saudi family. Most of the hijackers were Saudis. That's what people hear. And then I think when there is a leak, as there was in this case, people.

(CROSSTALK)

KISSINGER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to take a tough line in a briefing. I am calling attention to the fact that the United States has, at this moment, troops fighting in Afghanistan. It is obviously preparing at least the possibility of a military intervention in Iraq, and I think it is simply madness to talk about military confrontations with Saudi Arabia at a time when we have American air bases in Saudi Arabia, and when the basic relationship between the top people in Saudi Arabia and the United States are quite friendly.

And therefore, we should try to manage this problem some other way.

MCEDWARDS: Dr. Kissinger, why is it so important for the United States to maintain a good relationship with Saudi Arabia?

KISSINGER: Why is it so desirable to have a bad relationship with Saudi Arabia?

MCEDWARDS: Fair enough. But why is it important? I mean, to what extent is this tied to the increasing talk from the United States administration about making a move on Iraq?

KISSINGER: The issue is not good relations with Saudi Arabia or bad relations with Saudi Arabia. The issue is, can we have a cooperative relationship on those issues that concern us which have to do with military deployments in the area, assistance on transfer of funds and so forth, and assistance towards terrorism. That is what is important.

Or are we better off proceeding as was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to do, to occupy a part of Saudi Arabia which is a society as different from ours to possibly imagine, and for us to govern in that situation, which might trigger an even greater outburst of terrorism.

And we should remember our experience in Iran, where we helped, or we contributed to the overthrow of the shah, and we've had 25 years of a nightmare of fundamentalism that has followed.

There are many things wrong with the behavior of the Saudis, and I would expect that the Saudis have learned from this recent experience, but at this particular moment, to start a campaign in this country on what amounts to a military (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with Saudi Arabia and the subversion of its institutions, when we haven't a clue to what to replace them with, it's simply reckless.

MCEDWARDS: Dr. Henry Kissinger, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you -- appreciate it.

For another perspective on this now, in Washington we've got Michael Ledeen, who's with the American Enterprise Institute.

Mr. Ledeen, thanks a lot for being here.

I'd like to get you to respond to what Dr. Kissinger just said there, and that is that he feels that there are lots of things that the Saudis have done incorrectly, but he feels that they've acknowledged this, addressed it, and this is the relationship that's moving forward.

MICHAEL LEDEEN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Well, I wish. I certainly agree with him that we have a long-standing, good working relationship with Saudi Arabia, and this is not the moment to bring that whole relationship into question.

On the other hand, what bothers us, and the enormous problem is both the funding that has gone to terrorism and this terrifying network of radical schools and mosques all over the Western world on which the Saudi royal family is laying out upwards of $2 billion a year, which some people have described, I think fairly, as the assembly line for the next generation of terrorists.

I mean, these are radical wahhabi schools and the text they use are the same as the terrorists grew up with in Saudi Arabia, and the sermons delivered in their mosques are the same sermons that are given in Saudi mosques by radical imams.

And by the way, those imams are funded by the Saudi government. Their sermons are approved by Saudi censors, and so they come as close to being official statements from that regime as you can image.

MCEDWARDS: Well, but -- OK. The Saudis pursue their own fundamentalist view of Islam, but why is that any more of a threat than any other country's pursuit of that view?

LEDEEN: Because they have more money and because they're running more than 1,000 of these institutions in the United States alone, and we simply can't tolerate people raising children in this country and being taught that if you kill an American you go to heaven.

We wouldn't tolerate that in Christian schools or Jewish schools. They're no reason to tolerate it in Muslim schools.

MCEDWARDS: You know, the question that came up after September 11th was is there something about Saudi Arabia that has bred this, that has created the bin Ladens, that has, you know, created the majority of the hijackers. Is it something about Saudi Arabia, or is that way too simplistic?

LEDEEN: I think it's way too simplistic. The people who share this view, after all, come from all over the world. I mean, we've had people come from the United States to sign up for this jihad, and they've been trained in places quite remote from Saudi Arabia. Some of them have been trained here in the United States and then went off to Afghanistan to join the war against us.

MCEDWARDS: Can you say friend or foe when you talk about Saudi Arabia? Or do you put it somewhere in between?

LEDEEN: I don't see why they can't be both. There are areas where we really have unanimity and where we agree on what should be done and where we can work very closely. And there are other areas, such as this matter of indoctrinating young people to hate Americans, Christians and Jews on which we are fundamentally opposed to one another.

And I hope and expect, by the way, that the Saudi royal family will cut down on this, because it really is intolerable.

MCEDWARDS: Well, the Saudis have pointed to some of the things they've done. You mentioned the issue of fund raising and funding terrorist organizations. I mean, they say they signed an international convention to suppress the funding of terrorism. The Saudi Central Bank, I recall, introduced measures to prevent the flow of funds to terrorists.

These sound like gestures. These sound like actions of a friend.

LEDEEN: Look, I'm not great expert on the Saudi royal family, but my impression is that there are real divisions there on how to proceed.

Some of them feel intimidated by radical Islamic extremists. Some of them probably believe the extremist doctrines themselves. But just a couple of months ago, for example, we found in Kosovo there was an official Saudi charity organization that turned out to be a front for al Qaeda, and the money raised there, under the guise of philanthropic activities, was going to fund terrorists.

So, look, it's hard and it's complicated, and the relationship is complicated also. But the fundamental issue is that our disagreements with Saudi Arabia are very different from the kinds of head-on collisions we're on with countries like Iran, Iraq and Syria. It's of a different order of magnitude and it's a different kind of problem, but it is a problem.

And the last thing I'd like to say is about this matter of briefings and points of view. It's terribly important that the American government, including Sect. Rumsfeld and President Bush, hear all points of view on all these questions. The worst thing that could happen to government is to have all their advisors agreeing, because then they wouldn't understand the richness of the issues they're dealing with.

MCEDWARDS: Well, where does this leave the United States, then? I mean, how should it be treating Saudi Arabia, do you think?

LEDEEN: I think we should treat Saudi Arabia as an ally on questions where we agree, and I think we should be very stern with them about this kind of radical disruption that they are funding all over the Western world.

It's a threat to all of us. We just can't have it. Because people who believe that the modern world is sinful and evil, that the United States is an infidel country and that all Americans have to be wiped out, and anybody that does it will be rewarded by God, this is very dangerous business, and we shouldn't have countries that consider themselves friends of ours funding that kind of program.

MCEDWARDS: Michael Ledeen, we'll leave it there. Thanks a lot -- appreciate it.

LEDEEN: Thanks, Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: And we're going to continue our conversation about Saudi Arabia and the United States in just a moment, when Q&A continues.

Lots more ahead. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MCEDWARDS: Welcome back.

On Q&A, we're talking about some controversial statements that came to light this week, suggesting that the United States should view Saudi Arabia as an enemy, not a friend.

And for more on this we are joined from Washington by Shireen Hunter with the Center for Strategic and International Study. She's director of the center's Islam project.

Shireen Hunter, thanks so much for being here.

Is it true that the Saudis are spreading their view of Islam, this wahhabism, around the world? That they're exporting this?

SHIREEN HUNTER, ISLAM PROJECT, CSIS: Well, yes, of course. I think that for some time now Saudi Arabia, since I think 1960's, has been spreading the wahhabi interpretation of Islam, which is a particular school of, you know, law and viewing Islam.

However, one thing that has to be taken into account is that when the Saudis did that, actually their expectation was that their Islam, being more sort of quiet, even though more strict, was going to be a kind of antidote to the more revolutionary ideas, Islamic and secular, that was dominating the Muslim world.

But in the process, obviously, I think that things got off track, and that in a way one could say that a new transmutation took place, and if you wanted, a radical version of wahhabism developed, that frankly is also a threat to the current Saudi establishment itself.

MCEDWARDS: So you're saying it wasn't really the initial intent to spread extremism. But is it fair to say that that's it now? That there is a goal here of spreading extremism? There is a goal here of undermining the West?

HUNTER: I would -- it's very hard to say that, but I think that what has really happened is that some of those institutions that were created and that was referred to, whether it is schools and so on -- and not, of course, all of them. It's very important to make this distinction -- is that those that receive the Saudi help, now they are developing their own agenda that does not perhaps necessarily coincide with the Saudi Arabian agenda.

I, frankly have a lot of difficulty to believe that the establishment in Saudi Arabia, certainly the political establishment, is, for example, supporting bin Laden or activities that bin Laden is doing.

But the point to make is that perhaps now they have to become more aware and to control better those individuals that are behaving in ways that is even contrary to the intentions of the Saudi government and authorities themselves.

MCEDWARDS: But if you recognize that in some of the individuals that have been turned out through this process, don't you have to connect the dots back to the ideology and do something there?

HUNTER: Well, obviously, I think that one of the things that has to be done is that, because, you know, the Saudi Arabia itself is changing, I think that there has to be effort to encourage the more liberal, the more, how would you say, progressive and less literalist and strict interpretations of Islam. That is for certain.

This cannot be done in one day. But I think that what can be done, and I think that maybe, as you mentioned, yourself, they're already beginning realizing, is that there has to be greater supervision of where various funds by individuals or foundations are going. And once they get the funds, are they using it for the proper purposes, or diverting them for destructive purposes?

So I think that it is a big job and has to be done at two levels, both at the level of reinterpreting some of the old premises, but also more on the operational level, controlling much better activities of individuals or certain independent foundations and so forth.

MCEDWARDS: I'm still curious about what happens when this gets to a country like the United States. I mean, how much support has the Saudi's approach to Islam really found in the United States?

HUNTER: I think that, you know, it is a very, it would be a mistake to lay all the kind of, shall we say, anti-United States sentiment or radical sentiment, among certain segments of the population here, which is, by the way, actually really a small minority at the Saudis feet.

There is that, as I mentioned, a variety of political, I think, symbiosis which has developed, which uses religion, in a way, as its basis, but in many ways really distorts religion.

And so there are other elements that feed into what people characterize now as wahhabism or, you know, extremism.

Wahhabism, when it started in the 18th century, it essentially was a reinterpretation of a very strict Islamic school. It was not a political ideology. It did not particularly target minority religions and so on.

So we have to make a distinction between religion and this kind of radical ideology, which is a transmutation of religion, because of political development, because of, you know, local conditions and other factors.

MCEDWARDS: It's curious, too, and I think some people might see a contradiction in it, that there's been this exportation of the ideology, but I don't imagine the Saudis would react kindly to someone setting up schools, setting up mosques, setting up some, you know, some other sort of ideology, promoting it in their own country.

HUNTER: Well, yes, that is obviously the contradiction. You know, everybody wants to maintain their own kind of sanctity while, you know, spreading their own views. That is for certain.

But I think that as Saudi Arabia becomes, you know, physically, certainly, modernized, a greater number of people become educated, and I think it becomes more and more involved in the outside world, I think that eventually change will happen. It will happen within the Saudi Arabia itself. It will happen under the external pressures.

The question is, I think, and the way Dr. Kissinger put it was very apt, is that how do you do this, in order not to have, you know, something that we may not like 100 percent or even 80 percent, be replaced with something that, you know, is really a danger, and we can't have anything to do with it. And I think the whole Iranian example is, you know, a good lesson.

MCEDWARDS: A good one there. All right, Shireen Hunter, thank you very much for your thoughts -- appreciate it.

HUNTER: Thank you.

MCEDWARDS: And that is all the time we have for on Q&A. But there's much more Q&A coming up in just a few hours. That's going to be with Jim Clancy at 19:30 GMT.

I'm Colleen McEdwards. WORLD NEWS is coming up next.

END

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