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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Explosive New Book Published in France Alleges that U.S. Was in Negotiations to Do a Deal with Taliban

Aired January 8, 2002 - 07:34   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.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Time to check in with ambassador-in- residence, Richard Butler, this morning. An explosive new book published in France alleges that the United States was in negotiations to do a deal with the Taliban for an oil pipeline in Afghanistan.

Joining us right now is Richard Butler to shed some light on this new book. He is the former chief U.N. weapons inspector. He is now on the Council on Foreign Relations and our own ambassador-in- residence -- good morning.

RICHARD BUTLER, FMR. U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Good morning, Paula.

ZAHN: Boy, if any of these charges are true...

BUTLER: If...

ZAHN: ... this...

BUTLER: Yes.

ZAHN: ... is really big news.

BUTLER: I agree.

ZAHN: Start off with what your understanding is of what is in this book -- the most explosive charge.

BUTLER: The most explosive charge, Paula, is that the Bush administration -- the present one, just shortly after assuming office slowed down FBI investigations of al Qaeda and terrorism in Afghanistan in order to do a deal with the Taliban on oil -- an oil pipeline across Afghanistan.

ZAHN: And this book points out that the FBI's deputy director, John O'Neill, actually resigned because he felt the U.S. administration was obstructing...

BUTLER: A proper...

ZAHN: ... the prosecution of terrorism.

BUTLER: Yes, yes, a proper intelligence investigation of terrorism. Now, you said if, and I affirmed that in responding to you. We have to be careful here. These are allegations. They're worth airing and talking about, because of their gravity. We don't know if they are correct. But I believe they should be investigated, because Central Asian oil, as we were discussing yesterday, is potentially so important. And all prior attempts to have a pipeline had to be done through Russia. It had to be negotiated with Russia.

Now, if there is to be a pipeline through Afghanistan, obviating the need to deal with Russia, it would also cost less than half of what a pipeline through Russia would cost. So financially and politically, there's a big prize to be had. A pipeline through Afghanistan down to the Pakistan coast would bring out that Central Asian oil easier and more cheaply.

ZAHN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as you spoke about this yesterday, we almost immediately got a call from "The New York Times."

BUTLER: Right.

ZAHN: They want you to write an op-ed piece on this over the weekend.

BUTLER: Right, and which I will do.

ZAHN: But let's come back to this whole issue of what John O'Neill, this FBI agent...

BUTLER: Right.

ZAHN: ... apparently told the authors of this book. He is alleging that -- what -- the U.S. government was trying to protect U.S. oil interests? And at the same time, shut off the investigation of terrorism to allow for that to happen?

BUTLER: That's the allegation that instead of prosecuting properly an investigation of terrorism, which has its home in Afghanistan as we now know, or one of its main homes, that was shut down or slowed down in order to pursue oil interests with the Taliban. The people who we have now bombed out of existence, and this not many months ago. The book says that the negotiators said to the Taliban, you have a choice. You have a carpet of gold, meaning an oil deal, or a carpet of bombs. That's what the book alleges.

ZAHN: Well, I know you're going to be doing your own independent homework on this...

BUTLER: Yes.

ZAHN: ... to see if you can confirm any of this. Let's move on to the whole issue of Iraq. The deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, at one time was considered one of those voices within the administration...

BUTLER: Yes.

ZAHN: ... that was pushing for moving beyond Afghanistan. He seemed to back off a little from that yesterday.

BUTLER: Yes.

ZAHN: What do you read through the tea leaves here?

BUTLER: A very interesting report that the administration will focus on the Philippines, Yemen, Somalia as places where there are al Qaeda cells. But the word Iraq wasn't used by the man who was the chief hawk -- used as a, you know, as a future target. So what I interpret from that is this: That very likely our allies have been saying to us, this is too hard. This is really serious. Be careful. Saddam is essentially contained at the moment. Don't start, you know, a bigger problem either in the Arab world or in the coalition by going after him. And Wolfowitz, it seems, has probably accepted that.

ZAHN: A quick thought on the Israelis intercepting this latest armed shipment? What that means? You've got to do it in about 15 seconds.

BUTLER: It's extraordinarily serious, because it seems to have been tied to Yasser Arafat himself. It needs to be further investigated, but you know, Paula, the potentiality that this could once again prove an impediment to resume peace negotiations is really quite serious.

ZAHN: Thank you as usual for covering so much territory. Richard Butler, see you same time, same place tomorrow morning.

BUTLER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ZAHN: We appreciate your insights.

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