This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, January 30, 2002 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.
DENNIS ROSS, FMR. MIDEAST ENVOY: Hi, Brit — how are you?
HUME: That was quite a list last night. Give people a sense from a diplomat's point of view who knows that region well of how different it was for a president to name countries like that and name organizations like that.
ROSS: Well, I really think it's a strategic departure, because it goes well beyond what the president was saying on September 20, at least in specific terms. Back then, he talked about going after terrorist groups of global reach. He did make it clear you were either with us, or you were against — you were either with us or you were the terrorist. There was no third way. But he wasn't specific, and last night he was. He talked about Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic jihad, all of which have connections with the Palestinians, with Lebanon, with Syria. He talked about Iran. He talked about Iraq. He talked about North Korea.
And I think what that means for the countries in the region is they have all been put on notice that the president is quite serious that the war against terror is not only a war against Al Qaeda. It is, in fact, a war against all of those groups that continue to employ terror, and it is also a war against all of those states that are prepared to support terror and use its means to try to achieve their end.
HUME: Now, how is this likely to be received, say, among our allies in Europe, taking the British aside for the moment, but among the other countries?
ROSS: I think they will be able to restrain their enthusiasm.
HUME: One senses that, but I mean — well, let me just take it a step further then. What about — how is this going to be reacted to in a place like Riyadh, Saudi Arabia? What kind of response there?
ROSS: I think what we are going to find in the region and in Europe is a heightened degree of nervousness about just what we are going to do, and when we are going to do it. But I also think what the president did is absolutely essential, because if, in fact, he is serious, as I think he surely is, about waging this war in a very systematic way and a very comprehensive way, then the sooner we put everybody on notice, the sooner they begin to adjust their on behavior. If, in fact, we try to do this in the shadows, we are going to find that they all feel that there is a way to escape the responsibility that they have along with us.
HUME: Do you mean the responsibility to make a choice?
ROSS: Absolutely. I think they will be nervous. I don't think there is any question about that. I do think what's very important in the days and weeks ahead is that we do an awful lot with them in private, laying out exactly how we intend to proceed, laying out what we expect from them and making it clear that we will, in the end, achieve the objective, and it's in their interest to be with us, because they will find in the end their interests are served by that.
HUME: Now, let's talk just for a minute about the organizations — the terrorist organizations as apart from the countries that the president mentioned. As you noted earlier, he had said terrorist organizations of global reach. I think most people, I know I certainly took away from that he was really not including the organizations whose principle role in life seem to be to work against Israel. Now, he has named them. What effect is that likely to have in that immediate region on the Palestinians, on the Israelis and so on?
ROSS: I think it has a very important effect. I think on the Palestinians, the message is unmistakably clear now. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot somehow suggest that you are engaged in resistance, and it's not terror. The message that's being sent is you don't have to give up your claims, you don't have to give up your grievance, you don't have to give up your cause, but you cannot pursue that cause using the means of terror. And that's a message to all of the Palestinians, and I think that's very important.
It is also a message to many of our friends in the Arab world, many of whom have sought to suggest that somehow there is no such thing as terror when it comes to Israel. Well, the fact of the matter is there is. We have a responsibility to pursue Middle East peace, but they have a responsibility to help us. One way they can help both in terms of fighting terror and peace is to make it clear that they will pursue and they will support the pursuit of their cause through the legitimate means of negotiations, not through the illegitimate means of terror.
HUME: Now, a key country in that region in all of this has at times been Syria. was not named by the president, although it has been widely thought to be a sponsoring state where terrorism is concerned. What kind of a situation does this speech by the president and his identification of these organizations put Syria in?
ROSS: I think it puts the Syrians in a bind, because by naming Hezbollah, it's very clear that they are definitely a target for us at some point. Now, Hezbollah gets all of its weapons from Iran, and they come through Syria. So Syria, in effect, is also being put on notice. Syria also houses Hamas and Islamic jihad. They both have offices there. The offices of the Syrians like to say to us are only for political purposes. We know from the past that oftentimes operational directives were given out of those offices.
So Syria is also being put on notice. Syria wasn't named, but because it's so clearly associated with these groups, it is also going to have to make a choice.
HUME: What would you expect based on what you know about that situation what some of these choices are likely to be? What countries or groups in your estimation are likely to change their conduct, if any?
ROSS: Well, I think Syria is actually the most interesting one, and I think there is a potential for change there, because Bashar al-Assad, the younger Assad who is now the president of Syria, he has an interest in having his country join the 21 century, and it's not going to do that if it remains identified with all of these groups.
It won't be a simple thing for him to make that choice, and one thing that we need to watch is are we seeing a change in the line-up of who is leading in Syria? Basically, he has kept all of the old guard from his father. If we begin to see him move and replace the old guard with younger people, that may well be a pretty good indicator that we're going to see some change in Syria.
HUME: Good. Dennis, always good to have you — thank you very much — look forward to seeing you when you get back to town.
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