Bush Administration Gets Tough on Syria

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, April 15, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST:  The Bush administration is getting serious with the Syrians, making it crystal clear it's time for them to change their behavior.

Ambassador Edward Djerejian is director of the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston. He was U.S. ambassador for Syria between 1988 to 1991.

So Mr. Ambassador, who is making the miscalculation here? Is it young Bashar Assad or it one of his as yet unseen advisors?

AMB. EDWARD DJEREJIAN, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA:  Well, we don't know that for a fact, John. But I think the administration has sent a very clear signal to not only Syria but to Iran that during this period where we have military engagement in Iraq and U.S. troops, that the United States expects both the government of Damascus and the government in Tehran to control that border to both the movement of peoples in both directions and the movement of military equipment, obviously.

GIBSON:  Do you think that Saddam Hussein and his closest advisors went to Damascus?

DJEREJIAN:  I don't know that. I'm not privy to that type of information, if it's existent. But there's one thing that we have to note here. The Baathist regime in Damascus and the Baath regime in Baghdad have been rivals from the very beginning.

There's no love lost between Saddam Hussein's regime and the Baathist regime in Syria… so these two regimes that have been virtually at each other's throats during the last couple of decades.

There's no political impulse, as I can see it, for the Syrians to help the regime. And it's interesting in their statements, the former regime in Baghdad, and we can see in the Syrian statements, they refer to the Iraqi people, they don't refer to the regime, per se. And they certainly don't refer to Saddam Hussein.

GIBSON:  What about the weapon weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical weapons? We were hearing a lot of discussion from U.S. officials the Syrians have them, and may be augmenting their supplies or augmenting their brain power from Iraq.

DJEREJIAN:  Well, there are two things here again, John. One is what is new in the equation since we have launched our activities in Iraq, and what is on the old agenda, between the United States and Syria.

What is new is the claims that Saddam Hussein's regime tried to hide its weapons of mass destruction into Syria. I have noted a General Myers statement that the United States doesn't have any evidence that that has happened. But the old issue, which has been on our agenda for years is, of course, the reports that Syria has at least chemical weapons capability.

GIBSON:  Well, does it make sense that even if the Assad regime in Syria wasn't going to be hospitable to Saddam Hussein that it would want to be hospitable to Iraqi scientists who are looking to get away from the Americans, and come with the brain power to augment his chemical capability, whatever it is at the moment?

DJEREJIAN:  I think that the Syrian government would have to take a hard look at what its balance of interests are in the world, especially with the altered landscape in the Middle East after our military action in Iraq.

Harboring nuclear scientists for the purpose of developing a nuclear capability would be noted. You can't keep that hidden and secret for too long. And I don't think there's an issue of Syria's nuclear capabilities. That is not a program that I think has been on the agenda. But certainly, that would be a very problematic move for the Syrians to make.

GIBSON:  All right, Ambassador Edward Djerejian, he was the U.S. ambassador to Syria from 1988 to 1991. Thanks a lot, Ambassador. I appreciate it.

DJEREJIAN:  Thank you. Thank you.

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