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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Target: Terrorism - James Rubin Speaks on America's War on Terrorism

Aired October 5, 2001 - 06:22   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.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We are waiting for more details on two key diplomatic missions today. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is landing in Uzbekistan. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain is meeting with Pakistan's president today.

For more on these meetings, what they might mean to any U.S. military action as well as latest developments out of the Middle East, we're joined by James Rubin. He is a former Assistant Secretary of State in the Clinton administration.

Good morning, Jamey, good to see you.

JAMES RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Nice to see you.

LIN: Let's talk about the intent of these diplomatic missions. As these meetings take place, do you see them as a last ditch attempt to prevent military strikes or is it really just the last dotting of the I's, crossing of the T's before military action by the United States?

RUBIN: Well, I definitely do not see these missions as an attempt to head off military action. I think we're clearly going to see military action. When that will occur, I do not know. But regardless of when it occurs, it's crucial that Prime Minister Blair and Secretary Rumsfeld continue to work with key allies in this rather unique coalition and develop the kind of depth of support that we're going to need to maintain the coalition when military action does indeed begin.

That means in Pakistan shoring up the support for President Musharraf who made a very difficult decision to support the West and who's now -- whose government has now said that the -- they believe the evidence is there to indict Osama bin Laden's organization. It also means working with Central Asian allies as Secretary Rumsfeld is doing and countries in the -- in the region like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And what we need to have is as many Muslim countries as possible convinced that the evidence is clear and compelling and make that point publicly so that when military action begins and there are the inevitable civilian casualties that we can maintain support for what we need to do to prevent another terrorist action against the United States. LIN: Well speaking of one of those Muslim countries, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld going to Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has key military bases that the United States could use for any ground operations, but the Uzbeks are now saying that they want the United States to commit to a prolonged presence there to help them retaliate and protect them from any potential retaliation by any Islamic fundamentalists, any Islamic terrorists as well. Is this a deal that is worth making for the United States?

RUBIN: Well, the specifics obviously count. But I think you're absolutely right that a number of these countries want to know that if they - their countries are used as launching off points for a long- term conflict in Afghanistan that the United States will not leave them hanging when it's over, if indeed there are dangerous results. And I certainly hope and believe that the Bush administration realizes that to engage in this kind of military conflict in Afghanistan, to change the regime as clearly as the intent of Tony Blair publicly and I suspect the Bush administration privately, that that means we've got to stay the course this time and not leave that country to fall apart again as we did after we defeated the Soviet Union when it invaded Afghanistan. So a long-term kind of commitment I don't know about the specifics and basing rights and those are all up for discussion, but a long-term commitment is important.

LIN: And what do you make of information yesterday that our own Jamie McIntyre got from a senior Pentagon official who was talking about this big humanitarian aid drop that the United States is planning in Afghanistan and basically what's under consideration right now is a preemptive strike against the ruling Taliban's air defenses to make sure that these large cargo planes belonging to the U.S. military are not shot down in that mission? The United States considering preemptive strikes in order to deliver humanitarian aid.

RUBIN: Well, I think it is a very good thing indeed that the administration has realized the importance of providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. Doing so will help demonstrate that we don't want to harm innocent Afghanis but we want to focus on those responsible for this terrible attack on the United States. Obviously when we begin military action, all of it will be in some sense a preemptive attack and it is standard operating procedure in such a case, as it was in previous uses of force, to make sure that we own the air and that means destroying as much as possible of the air defense systems before our military aircraft or humanitarian aircraft operate. So I would expect that to happen. And I think it's crucial that our military strikes are accompanied by humanitarian assistance so that the people of Afghanistan who were already suffering terribly before this crisis are helped and the focus of attention is on the Taliban and Osama bin Laden where it belongs rather than turned on the United States for causing the humanitarian crisis.

LIN: And we focus also on the Middle East today, Jamey, as Israeli defense forces moved into Palestinian territories, opened fire because of complaints of Palestinian gunfire aimed, once again, at Israelis. And Ariel Sharon coming out with some very strong words saying to the United States do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense in this coalition building. Israel will fight terrorism. We can only count on ourselves. Is this the kind of language that is needed at this time?

RUBIN: Well during that statement, Mr. Sharon, the prime minister, offered the United States a history lesson about Czechoslovakia and no appeasement. I think instead of focusing on European history, Prime Minister Sharon should focus on the history of the U.S.-Israeli relationship in which time after time when Israel was in crisis and Israel was in danger, the United States stood by Israel and helped them get out of a crisis. And he needs to realize that this is the first time in history that the United States, not Israel, is in a crisis.

The United States has been attacked. The United States is at war. And so now we want to see whether the Israeli government will stand by us the way we stood by them. That doesn't mean letting Arafat -- Yasser Arafat off the hook. We have to keep pressure on him to crack down on these attacks. But for Mr. Sharon not to realize that it is crucial that the Israeli government show us their support in our time of crisis after so many times we've shown them our support in their times of crisis.

LIN: But is it not true that the United States government also needs the support of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians in this fight against terrorism in order to keep this Arab coalition alive, well and together before any U.S. military action in Afghanistan?

RUBIN: What's true is that to the extent that we can try to keep calm in the Middle East, meaning between the Israelis and the Palestinians, to minimize the fighting, to have the beginnings of dialog, it will help us in maintaining support for the coalition against terrorism. Over the long term, the United States cannot solve the problems in the Middle East, the parties have to and we have to keep pressure on the Palestinians to force them to stop these attacks on innocent Israelis. But the Israelis have to realize that their best friend in the world is the United States. We are their long-term ally and right now we are in a crisis and we need their support and their flexibility to make sure that our efforts are successful.

LIN: James Rubin, you always add to our understanding of a very difficult and complex region. Thanks for joining us this morning -- James Rubin.

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