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CNN LIVE TODAY

Interview With Professor Rob Sobhani

Aired April 23, 2003 - 10:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Right now, Rob Sobhani is an expert on U.S. policy toward the Middle East. He is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and he is joining us now from Washington. Good to have you again with us, professor, to talk about this.
ROB SOBHANI, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Good morning, Leon.

HARRIS: Are you surprised at all about this new development, because it seems as though this may be fitting the Yasser Arafat pattern where he waits until the last minute to finally make a concession to save himself and we may have seen that happen this morning?

SOBHANI: Well, I think, Leon, it once again points to the fact that Yasser Arafat is a desperate man. He's desperate to leave a legacy for himself. He wants to be the person who declares a Palestinian state. And yet, at the same time, he has failed his people over the last 30 years to provide that Palestinian state. And now that the United States has made it very clear that we want new leadership, he is, as you mentioned, clinging to his ways of the past. We will wait to see, but I think this is a good development for the United States, the fact that they finally have been able to resolve this difference.

HARRIS: All right. So just give us an idea of what you think was really behind this impasse leading -- up to this point now, we have been hearing that the big issue has been this one figure that Abu Mazen was picking for to head up the security operations there. Then this morning I'm also hearing that, perhaps, that Abu Mazen was making a commitment to actually disarming the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a faction of Fatah that has really been a strong member -- strong supporter of Yasser Arafat. What do you think it is, and why do you think it came to this point?

SOBHANI: Well, I think Abu Mazen -- Mahmoud Abbas, as his name is also, understands very well that terrorism is not going to get the Palestinians a state. He also understands that Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, is willing to talk to him. More importantly, the United States is willing to throw its weight behind Abu Mazen, our diplomatic support, our financial support, and this is where Arafat finds himself boxed. And I think this is where we found that behind the scenes debate between Arafat and Abu Mazen. I think, at the end of the day, the United States should stick with Abu Mazen, we should stick with someone who is committed to reform and an end to the terrorism, because that is what is going to bring to fore a Palestinian state. HARRIS: All right. So what pressure does this now -- if there is an agreement here being reached, does that put any more or different kind pressure now on Israel and the U.S. here?

SOBHANI: The most important thing right now, Leon, is to make sure that the process moves forward, that there is no vacuum between now and whenever negotiations start because vacuums in the West Bank and Gaza usually mean filling that by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and more terrorism. And the last thing the United States needs is more terrorism in the West Bank and Gaza. I think the United States needs to make it very, very clear we are going to stick with Abu Mazen, we want reform in the leadership, and on the economic front, and have the Israelis come to the table as well.

HARRIS: All right. We'll talk about this more in the future, no doubt very near future. Much more coverage this morning. Professor Rob Sobhani from Georgetown University, thank you very much. We'll talk to you soon.

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