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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Aired May 30, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET

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

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christiane Amanpour, in London, and welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
In this edition, it's boom time for the Iraqi media, finally free of the restrictions of the former regime.

But we begin this week with the Middle East and the roadmap to peace. Recent days and weeks have seen some major moves, with a new Palestinian prime minister and the acceptance of the roadmap to peace by both sides.

Though the Israelis have reservations, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon shocked many this week by calling for an end to Israeli occupation of the Palestinians, using the word that had never been used before by an Israeli prime minister.

Joining us now to discuss the media's take on recent events, from Tel Aviv, we have Akiva Eldar, of the daily "Ha'aretz" newspaper and Nabil Khatib, the Jerusalem bureau chief of the Middle East Broadcasting Center, joins us from Ramallah.

Thank you both for joining us.

First, Mr. Eldar, I want to ask you, you have spoken to Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, the new prime minister of the Palestinians. What take are you getting from him? And is he the guy who could sway Israeli public opinion behind the peace movement again?

AKIVA ELDAR, "HA'ARETZ": Well, my sense was, is that he is having a very hard time to persuade his own public opinion, the Palestinian street, and I sensed that while he was talking to me, he was thinking how will it look after it will be translated into Arabic, and how is Arafat going to react.

He was very careful, and I think that unlike Arafat, with whom I had lunch afterwards, he is really down to earth. He is not a man of clich‚s or slogans of, you know, piece of the brave and this kind of statements that we have been used to getting from Arafat.

My sense was that he fully understands the Israeli public, but he is very on alert what are his Palestinian colleagues in the leadership and the Palestinian street, how they're going to react with his meetings with Arafat to the summit in Aqaba and the like.

AMANPOUR: With Sharon.

Nabil, what was the reaction on the Palestinian street then, if you like, to the interview in "Ha'aretz"?

NABIL KHATIB, MIDDLE EAST BROADCASTING CENTER: The Palestinians are looking, are monitoring carefully the performance of the Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

There is a hope that he could lead the situation with the Israelis to a, let us say, a climate of relaxation and calming down the situation, at least in the eyes of the Palestinians, simple Palestinians who are looking forward to have the siege imposed on them 30 months ago until now lifted, that they can go back to work even in their own cities that they can't reach, et cetera, et cetera.

So this is what they are looking, and to be frank, I, even, sometimes, would be surprised that the Palestinians, Palestinian street, is not waiting or looking for the strategic things, like things about the state now, right now. But they are so tired from the siege and from the restrictions from the Israeli Army, that they are mainly looking to this issue, and they are monitoring if Abbas will be successful, to get that from the Israelis for them.

AMANPOUR: OK. Now, let me ask you the Israeli question. When Ariel Sharon used the word occupation last week, how did that go down in the Palestinian neighborhoods?

KHATIB: There was two kinds of perceptions towards that.

On the level of the politicians and the intellectuals, this was looked at as something important, surprising, from a prime minister who used to be known as one of the most right-wing leaders of Israel.

But on the level of the people on the street, they are so tired from their daily life and restrictions imposed on them, so they even didn't think about it, and they still are in the prison of lack of confidence.

AMANPOUR: All right, let's move beyond slogans and the media. Let's talk about real facts. What can Abu Mazen do, do you think, as part of his initial responsibilities under phase 1 of the roadmap? Do you believe that there will be some kind of gesture from Hamas, as has been reported quite widely?

KHATIB: Yes, I do believe so, because there is several factors that are pushing Hamas and Jihad Islami and partly the Al Aqsa Brigades, from Fatah, to go to a readiness for compromise through Mahmoud Abbas with Israel.

They are ready more than ever, I think, to give a chance to Mahmoud Abbas, and they see that there is a chance to go by agreement on calming down the situation, or what's so-called in media as cease-fire. And by that, to try to avoid cracking down on them, because they feel after the situation has been changed in the Middle East, after the war in Iraq and pressure on Syria, et cetera, they don't need to be in a lose-lose situation, and this is what was imposed on them in the beginning by Israel, that Mahmoud Abbas should crack down on Hamas anyway.

Now there was a relaxation in this issue by having Israel agreeing, at least in the beginning, to allow Mahmoud Abbas to reach a cease-fire with Hamas and Jihad Islami, to look for calming down the situation. This opened an opportunity, and according to Hamas leaders and Mahmoud Abbas himself, there is a chance that even the cease-fire could be announced officially this week.

AMANPOUR: Akiva Eldar, let me ask you, beyond the words, beyond what these leaders are both saying, beyond the pressure that they've got from the United States, from your perspective, do you see -- what do you see Ariel Sharon doing as the first measures? And do you see this being really the roadmap to peace starting right now?

ELDAR: Well first of all, I can see this as a roadmap to peace with President Bush.

I believe that Sharon has drawn a red line for himself, after the Lebanon war, that whatever happens here, he does not fight with the U.S., with the American president.

For him, this is a strategic target, and he will do everything he can in order to avoid this.

Now, I believe that what has happened is, Sharon made a big mistake by sucking Mr. Bush into this swamp of the Middle East. You know, I've been following so many American presidents and Israeli prime ministers who have tried this water and have very, very bad memories from that.

And what Sharon did by trying to put a rift between the State Department and the White House, he got now the American president, putting all his prestige and taking a risk of failure here. And Sharon knows that there is a price here.

So I think that you have to look at Sharon's relations with the U.S. as a guide line to any analysis of this process. Now, he may find himself in...

AMANPOUR: So you're hopeful, then?

ELDAR: I am hopeful that unwillingly he will find himself in a process that he can't stop. And you know, it happened to Menachem Begin. It happened to Rabin -- people who we didn't expect in Israel to make those kinds of historic gestures, to make peace.

And maybe he will even fall in love with this process. You can never know.

I did not imagine that in my lifetime I will see Prime Minister Rabin, who had gave orders in the first intifada to break the bones of the Arabs, to see him shaking Arafat's hand at the White House -- I was there, at the South Lawn. And I couldn't really believe my own eyes.

So, you know, there are miracles in the Middle East, and Sharon may be the next one. Looking back at his history makes you very pessimistic and even depressed, but looking at the history of the peace process and what happened to other prime ministers and looking even at Prime Minister Shamir, who said that, you know, it's OK to lie for greater Israel, and found himself in Madrid starting this whole process, you know.

And it all depends, at the end of the day, on the president of the United States. So you should ask him the question before you go to Prime Minister Sharon, because he is the one who calls the shots.

AMANPOUR: OK. Because I can't ask the president of the United States, I'm going to ask Nabil -- do you -- do the Palestinians also see the president of the U.S. as being key to this process?

KHATIB: Definitely.

The Palestinians do believe that only the United States and the Quartet helping the United States can go further with this peace process, and if there is not any seriousness in Washington then nothing could be here.

Unfortunately, both parties can not reach, I mean, a lot on the road to peace without the assistance of the Americans and the international community. That's why I would fully agree with Akiva on this issue -- that both Palestinian and Israeli leaders are looking at Washington, and if Washington is willing to do efforts like we are going to see in Aqaba this week, this gives hope to everybody here, that there is a window of opportunity.

AMANPOUR: Thank you so much, both of you, for joining us, Nabil Khatib, from Ramallah, and Akiva Eldar, from Tel Aviv. Thank you so much. And perhaps, perhaps, just a moment of hope right now. That's good news.

And up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, that rustle you hear on the streets of Baghdad is thousands of pages of newsprint. The new Iraqi media revolution, in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Welcome back to INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

U.S. forces took Baghdad in early April. The guns were scarcely silent before a new free Iraqi press began to sprout on the street corners. Political parties and independent publishers rushed to fill the vacuum that was there.

Joining us now from Baghdad is Firas Ayash, senior editor of the new bi-weekly "Assaah." And here in the studio, in London, Saad Al-Bazzaz, publisher of "Azzaman," published daily in Baghdad and Basra in the south.

Welcome to both of you, and it's great to see free Iraqi journalists on CNN today.

Let me ask you first, Firas, in Baghdad, it must be incredibly exciting to be able to publish what you want.

FIRAS AYASH, "ASSAAH": Yes, you know, that in the Iraqi regime, there are two kinds of newspapers: those run by Saddam Hussein, and those run by his son, Uday Saddam Hussein. And you know that the two kinds are the same, but Uday Saddam Hussein has got (UNINTELLIGIBLE) day before publishing, and such as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) newspaper.

But now we can publish everything we want, freely, without restrictions, without any censorship, and this is very important question.

AMANPOUR: OK, Firas, I'll be back to you in a second.

Here in the studio with us, let me ask you, when you think about the future of a free press in Iraq, I mean, does it sort of blow your mind? You were once working for the regime.

SAAD AL-BAZZAZ, "AZZAMAN": I'm so optimistic about the future. The desire in Iraq among the Iraqi intellectuals, scholars, journalists, writers, artists, they feel that they have been kept under pressure for more than 3-1/2 decades, and they are in need to show themselves, to prove that they are capable enough to do a free press, and we hope that we will be a good example in the region.

Our desire is not to integrate with others in the region. Our desire, and I am talking about Iraqi intellectuals as well as new Iraqis, this is the way we describe ourselves, would like to be integrated with the new world.

And I'm, for this reason, I am really optimistic about the future.

AMANPOUR: What was it like, working under Saddam Hussein? You were an editor at that time, so you were part of the regime, under all those restrictions.

AL-BAZZAZ: You know, I could feel the difference, you know.

I was the first who defected from Iraq 12 years ago. When we found the chance to defect, first of all, and second, we found that there was a like to stop, not to promote that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Saddam -- not to promote the bad decisions and the -- the wrong decisions and the bad ideology as well.

In Iraq, through Saddam's term, there was one color, one God, one dictator, and there was no freedom for any other parties, any other different points of view.

Now the atmosphere has been changed totally, and no control, for the time being, over the press. We can do whatever we do, and now as you know more than 20 titles are on the ground in Iraq, and people, they, as long as they are capable to print, they will print.

AMANPOUR: When you used to read articles about Iraq, in the last 10 years, let's say, from international journalists, or when you saw Al Jazeera reports or anything coming out of Baghdad, did you think they were -- how did you think -- did you think that they were effected by the control from the regime?

AL-BAZZAZ: You know, the regime, as you noticed, they stopped, you know, any international press from coming to Iraq. There was no access even to get satellite and to walk other TV broadcasting.

That's why the regime was week enough not to let any other idea to be into Iraq and to reach the Iraqi audience and readers inside Iraq. So there was cut-off, isolated society in total.

AMANPOUR: Firas, if you can hear me again in Baghdad, Firas, how difficult is it to work as a journalist or as a publisher there in Iraq right now with the security situation, the lack of basic electricity. How difficult is it?

AYASH: I think we are obliged to transfer the suffering of the people of Iraq, regardless of any problems.

We know that the security was unstable in Iraq, but we know that we should challenge and we could defy the problems. The people of Iraq deserve this, and we could play many -- play hero in changing the community and to the freedom of democracy.

On the other hand, our newspaper, "Assaah" newspaper, had a generator and it could publish the newspaper at the exact time it wants.

AMANPOUR: And, Saad, your paper is a daily with a circulation of something like 60,000 your saying, and your about to move its headquarters to Baghdad.

AL-BAZZAZ: Yes. You know over the last 6 years, our main headquarters was in London, as exiled people.

Now the free press is there. The main element to re-communicate among the population and to offer confidence even while the security is lost.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much indeed, Saad Al-Bazzaz...

AL-BAZZAZ: You are most welcome.

AMANPOUR: ... joining us from London, and Firas Ayash, joining us from Baghdad, thank you both, gentlemen, very much indeed.

In other media news this week, a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists says that a U.S. attack on a Baghdad hotel that killed two journalists was not deliberate, but could have been avoided.

The report says, quote, "There is simply no evidence to support the official U.S. position that U.S. forces were returning hostile fire from the Palestine Hotel. It conflicts with eye-witness testimony of numerous journalists in the hotel."

Spanish cameraman Jose Couso of Telecinco and the Ukrainian-born cameraman Taras Protsyuk of Reuter's, were killed when a single tank shell struck the 15th floor of the hotel on April 8.

The report suggests the tank fired at what its commander believed was an Iraqi spotter searching for targets. You can read the full regard on www.CPJ.org.

The director general of the Arabic satellite television network Al Jazeera has been replaced. Al Jazeera says the move has nothing to do with accusations that the channel had been infiltrated by Iraqi intelligence.

A spokesman said that Mohammad Yassim Al Ali (ph) is returning to his former post at Qatar television, but he'll remain on Al Jazeera's board of directors.

A jailed Moroccan newspaper editor has been hospitalized after almost a month on hunger strike. Ali Robert (ph) is protesting his imprisonment on charges of insulting the country's king and undermining the monarchy, according to press watchdog "Reporters Sans Frontieres." RSF says Robert (ph) was jailed for four years this month, and his popular weeklies have been banned.

And the organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is joining RSF in asking the United States to explain why six French journalists were detained and deported from the United States two weeks ago.

U.S. immigration officials have said the six didn't have the correct visas and they denied that they were singled out because they were French. France has been unpopular among U.S. citizens since their sustained opposition to the war in Iraq.

And that's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next week for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Christiane Amanpour. Thank you for joining us.

END

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