Iraq's Neighbors Looking to Influence Vote?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Dec. 8, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: New intelligence gathered from the battlefield in Iraq and Fallujah in particular, suggests that Saddam Hussein (search) loyalists hiding in Syria are funding many of the terrorist attacks against American troops.

Meanwhile, it's believed that Iran is trying to influence the upcoming Iraqi elections. Are Iraq's neighbors making our mission there much more difficult? Joining us now, former Secretary of State is Lawrence Eagleburger (search).

Mr. Secretary, now this information comes out, found in these safehouses in Fallujah, that the money is coming from Syria; that young men are being recruited in Syria, sent into Iraq to attack Americans and so forth. Do we just have to take that or can we go in that country?


I don't think we can go in that country, but I will tell you first of all, as far as Syria is concerned, I have believed for years that we have been too nice to them, or at least not tough enough.

Economically, they're subject to some real pressures from us. I think that there's a great deal that could be done, short of going into the country, to put a stop to what the Syrians are obviously doing and have done to us for years. And they'll turn around and say, "Oh, we won't do it anymore." And then six weeks later, they're doing it again.

In this case, I think it's reprehensible and I do not think we've been tough enough on the Syrians. I don't think we have to invade them to get them to stop it.

GIBSON: Well, there's an option short of invasion that does include going into that country, which is air strikes on the Syrian border with Iraq aimed at people who are coming in. Can we do that?

EAGLEBURGER: We can do it. I myself wouldn't object to it at all, but I suspect there would be a lot of other people who would. So, once you do that, you have begun to expand it, I suppose.

I think it's the thing to do if the Syrians won't stop. I think we ought to tell them that that's going to happen if they don't stop this nonsense. But, my own view is, if they don't stop it; we ought to do it; I'm not at all sure Washington will agree with that.

GIBSON: Can we — I'm just throwing things out because I don't know what happens in the circles of the Secretary of State. Can we send in assassins to find these people who are funding this, apparently former Baathist Iraqis, and have sort of undercover operations in Syria?

Can we do that?

EAGLEBURGER: Well, we can have some undercover operations. We can't — if what you're implying is we can go in to try to find some these people and assassinate them, that supposedly is out of the question because of a presidential executive order issued some years ago.

But, there's no question we can put people in on the ground there, again, to try to stop this infiltration. My own view is fundamentally we ought to tell the Syrians they've got to stop it. And if they don't, we go to much more forceful measures.

I would also say to you, if we had more troops, or if the Iraqi troops were better trained, it would also be possible for us to do a better job on that border. But even then, it's a sieve under any circumstances.

GIBSON: Apparently, Secretary Powell went to Syria not long ago and they made some promises to him, he made some promises to them. We had some sort of understanding. Does it sound as though the Syrians have actually gone back on their word to Powell; slapped him in the face?

EAGLEBURGER: So far, I remind you, I'm not intimately knowledgeable about what they agreed to, but if it is true, as your report states, that there's still infiltrating coming in from Syria, I have to believe that the Secretary made it very clear that we didn't want that to continue.

I have to believe that at least probably; the Syrians said they'd stop it. But as I've said before, I have spent years myself, with the Syrians and they lie like rugs. And they have lied any number of times when they've said they would stop things and they've continued to do them.

I think we need to assume they're going to continue to lie.

GIBSON: All right. Duly noted.

On the other side of Iraq is Iran, and they are apparently trying to influence these elections so there is an Islamic republic, sort of, modeled after Iran in the upcoming elections in January. What are we supposed to do about that?

EAGLEBURGER: Well, that's a much tougher case. Again, I'm assuming that the reports are correct, that the Iranians are trying to play around, probably with some money. And I think, probably less support for terrorists as such, but trying to play around within the Shiite and Sunni communities, so to try to do what they can there.

It's a lot tougher game. If what their doing is infiltrating people across the borders, we can begin to treat them the same way we have the Syrians, as far as Iran is concerned, although it's a tougher case.

If what it is is this much more ephemeral activity, it's going to be very tough to deal with it.

GIBSON: Well, where do you start, Mr. Secretary?

EAGLEBURGER: You start by talking to them and you start by raising your voice, but you also need to understand that there is a limit to how much we ought to be trying to get ourselves involved in nastiness with the people of that area.

And again, if it's infiltrating across the border, that's one thing. You can deal with that to some degree by putting troops on the border, if you've got them there to put. But beyond that, if it's just more ephemeral stuff, my answer is we can talk a lot; we can yell. But unless we can prove some of it, it's going to be very hard to deal with it.

GIBSON: Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. The Syrians, "They lie like rugs."

EAGLEBURGER: Absolutely.

GIBSON: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. Appreciate your candor as always.

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