Will Libya's WMD Backoff Have a Ripple Effect?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Dec. 24, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

BOB SELLERS, GUEST HOST: The United Nations is calling for quick action on Libya's pledge to ban its weapons of mass destruction. That decision could have a ripple effect on the war against terror.

Ambassador Mark Ginsberg (search) is a FOX foreign affairs analyst. And that is today's big question, sir. Who's most likely to follow Libya's lead?

AMB. MARC GINSBERG, FOX FOREIGN AFFAIRS ANALYST: Bob, I think it's going to be Iran. We have been engaged in a very quiet, diplomatic effort after Iran agreed to let the International Atomic Energy Agency (search) to open up its nuclear facilities after, more or less, it was caught red-handed enriching uranium.

And now that the IAEA is back in and permitted to be backed into Iran on the basis of an agreement that had been negotiated with our European allies and the Iranian government, I think we're on the verge of further diplomatic efforts to have Iran also begin dismantling its weapons of mass destruction programs, as well as hopefully turn over major Al Qaeda (search) operatives that are in Iran.

SELLERS: So you think that they are holding such operatives and I guess my question is why would they start cooperating now? What is happening to make them change their way of behaving?

GINSBERG: Several things, Bob, I think, are going into the calculations of the mullahs in Tehran. First and foremost, the situation in Iraq is very complicated for them. There's a religious tug of war taking place between the political Shiite Islam (search) that the mullahs in Tehran wish to see emerge in Iraq and those in Iraq who do not want to see their Shiite brand of Islam politicized...

The capture of Saddam was a major event in so far as Tehran (search) is concerned. If we can now take this fight further to the resistance and have more success against the resistance, I think it will send a strong signal to the Iranians that they can negotiate with the United States to normalize relations largely because there's a huge demand, Bob, among the Iranian population to improve relations with Washington. And getting Al Qaeda operatives turned over to Washington is one of the key demands that the Bush administration has.

SELLERS: Could you succinctly describe what's going on now, as far as the reformers in Iran that are trying to become more Westernized, and the mullahs who are actually running the government, and how that's playing out?

SELLERS: Bob, it's very complicated, for one reason, the president of Iran has been more or less checkmated by the more radical elements that have not permitted the reforms to take place.

Ironically, that has had the impact of getting the population in Iran more interested in democratization, more interested in normalizing relations with Washington because they see that the government has been ineffective.

Their elected government has been largely ineffective in implementing the reforms that they want. So the population is turning increasingly aggressively against the more radical elements that are controlling the real power levers in Iran. So that's the paradox of how what's taking place there.

SELLERS: So when you say that Iran is likely to cooperate more, and of course they've already said as far as inspectors, “Come in and look at what we're doing here.” Is that representing the reformers who are making that decision or is it the mullahs? And are they going along with it because they fear the reformers?

SELLERS: I think in the end, Bob, that it's the mullahs fear, an enormous ground swell of popular support in favor of normalizing relations with Washington. It was incredible that just a few weeks ago the former president of Iran... called for normalization of relations with Washington. He has been — he was the inheritor, sort of speak, of Ayatollah Khomeini (search). And we know that, for example, Usama bin Laden's son is in Iran. We also have reasons to believe based on intelligence information that other members, senior members of Al Qaeda are in Iran.

We've even heard on FOX from my colleague Mansoor Ijaz that Usama bin Laden may have in fact been in Iran recently and helping to orchestrate attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq. Iran knows a great deal more than we know right now publicly.

SELLERS: Very quickly. Is the inclination of Libya and Iran among others to go along now with the international community a direct result of American efforts involved in Iraq?

GINSBERG: Yes. But it's also not just military alone. It's been the political, the quiet diplomatic efforts that we've engaged in with our European allies. Britain has played a major role here as well as Germany and France in the opening to Iran, just like Britain played a major role in convincing Colonel Qaddafi to open up his weapons of mass destruction for inspection and for dismantling.

SELLERS: Can't we all just get along, ambassador?

GINSBERG: I think we have a long way to go. I think there's a tipping balance in Iraq. And Syria is a major culprit in the weapons of mass destruction, too, but I don't think the Syrians are going to play with us on this.

SELLERS: All right, well, we'll see how it plays out. And we will certainly talk to you about. Thank you, sir.

GINSBERG: Thank you and Merry Christmas to everyone.

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