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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Steve Pomerantz, Fawaz Gerges

Aired May 14, 2003 - 19:05   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: One terrorist objective is to divide America from its allies. Now today the White House spoke to that objective.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: We want to continue to work with Saudi Arabia on this. But make no mistake, Saudi Arabia continues to cooperate with us and we'll continue to push Saudi Arabia for additional cooperation as we work together. But the people who carried this attack out are the ones the president is focused on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: But should the U.S. continue to consider Saudi Arabia an ally? What exactly does the U.S. get from this alliance and what are the costs, frankly?

Joining me now in Lawrence, professor of international affairs and Middle Eastern studies Fawaz Gerges, who has written extensively on the Middle East, and former FBI assistant director Steve Pomerantz is joining us from Virginia. Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.

Let me start off with you. Is Saudi Arabia an ally? If so, why? Because, I mean, their words often seem contradictory to what's going on in the ground.

Anderson, we must not allow the horrible events, you know, since 9/11 to distort the historical record. Saudi Arabia has been a solid dependent client in the last 55 years.

FAWAZ GERGES, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: In return for keeping the fuel of oil, the royal family was promised protection and security and what we need to understand is that the royal family is walking a tightrope between trying to maintain its dependent relationship with Washington while appeasing the conservative religious establishment that considers the United States a hostile power and a corrupting influence on moral life in the kingdom.

The big question is not, Anderson, why the royal family has not cracked down harder on the militant Islamists and the conservative religious establishment. It should. But also to what extent have American foreign policies in the Middle East undermined further the legitimacy of the royal family in the eyes of its population?

COOPER: Let me hold you there and let me bring in Steve. Steve, you heard the ambassador saying that things are going to be different this time. They are going to be very cooperative with investigators. Do you buy that?

STEVE POMERANTZ, FORMER FBI ASST. DIRECTOR: Well, we've heard all this before. You know, this is not a blank slate. They have a record in these kinds of cases and the record is not good.

Yes, director Freeh, while he was director went to Saudi Arabia, my recollection is multiple times to try to elicit their cooperation and let me assure you that the FBI director on the scene of an investigation indicates there is a problem and he doesn't normally show up.

And yes, begrudgingly, haltingly, partially they cooperated a little bit each time pressure was applied, but never satisfactory and fully, that's their record in terms of...

COOPER: If that is in fact the case, why is that and what does it is a about the way they view the U.S.? I mean, is it based on anti-American attitudes?

GERGES: The royal family is terrified, it is terrified of the ripple effects of anti-Americanism in the kingdom. It seems to me that there is a great deal, Anderson, of social upheaval in the kingdom and the conservative religious establishment is highly suspicious of American foreign policy. In fact, all of the polls.

COOPER: But the Saudi royal family is funding that conservative religious establishment.

GERGES: Let me add a footnote. Even although some, I mean, you might say, royal princes individually funded bin Laden, you know, until 9/11. The royal family, I mean, it would be suicidal for the royal family to support this form of terrorism whose basic aim is to destroy the royal family in the first place.

COOPER: Steve, Fawaz raises a point, he says that it would be suicidal for the royal family to do this. But just a couple days before this bombing, you have the interior minister of Saudi Arabia saying that al Qaeda is all but eliminated. I mean, do these guys realize the threat that does exist there?

POMERANTZ: I think the professor, I certainly agree with his statement about the Saudi royal family walking a tightrope. They are almost wholly dependent for their existence and continued rule on the Wahhabi religious establishment, and that's where the hatred and that's where the anti-Americanism that fuels terrorism around the world comes from. It is not our foreign policy. It is not anything we do. If we look to ourselves for the answer there, we're making a mistake.

The hatred, the anti-Westernism comes from the Wahabbi religious establishment, which is supported by the government of Saudi Arabia.

GERGES: But I think the royal family has little choice but to gradually and structurally reform state and society. It must empower the enlightened professional pluses (ph) as a counterweight to the religious establishments. And here the United States can do a great good by trying to nudge the reformist wing of the royal family...

COOPER: Right.

GERGES: ... to expand political participation in the decision making process.

COOPER: And that, of course, would be a big change and it remains to be seen whether or they will do that. Fawaz Gerges, appreciate your joining us. Steve Pomerantz, thank you very much, as well. Appreciate it.

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