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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Former Ambassador Bill Richardson Discusses Peace Efforts in Middle East

Aired April 29, 2002 - 09:12   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: We're going to now be joined by the former U.S. ambassador to the UN. He is currently running for governor in New Mexico. Bill Richardson is in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this morning.

Good to see you again, Mr. Ambassador.

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UN: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: All right. Ambassador Richardson, what do you think is going to break this impasse? The Israelis have made it abundantly clear they think the UN is anti-Israeli. They said if it weren't, the UN would be sending a fact-finding team to Israel to investigate some of these suicide bombings. Don't they have a point there?

RICHARDSON: Well, first of all, I think Kofi Annan is very skillful and he's going to make this work. I think what the Israelis really object to is the makeup of the team, Paula. It's four -- three individuals, one of whom use to be head of the International Red cross, Cornelio Sommaruga, although he's very distinguished, you know, the International Red Cross would always keep the Israeli Red Cross from participating in international efforts. Their concern is that the report will be biased.

Here's what I think will be the compromise. The American adviser, Col. Gnash (ph), I think, would probably be made part of the team. This is what the Israelis want. I think the scope issues, what they're going to do, that can be worked out, too. But you've got to recognize that the UN, when I was there, Israel felt that every step the UN took, whether it in a general assembly or the security counsel was a negative for them. Conversely in the United States everything that the UN does on Middle East policy, at least from American policy makers, you want to basically keep things out of the UN and try to resolve these issues with the U.S. being the broker.

ZAHN: Well let me ask you this. If Col. Gnash (ph) doesn't join the team, do you think the team would objectively tour Jenin or do you think that team has its mind made up?

RICHARDSON: No. I think that this is three distinguished people, including Mrs. Ogota (ph), the Head of the UN Refugees formerly. I think that this is still a negative for Israel. And right now Israel, with the suicide bombers, with international opinion basically cresting against it, feels very much under siege. This is where I think skillful diplomacy can work. And I don't think it makes sense to send the team into Israel and Israel reject it. I know how frustrated all the UN Security Council members are right now. But I think Israel is right now using this as a bargaining leverage that stall things a little bit until the other agreements on Ramallah and Arafat having access to move around the prisoners. So I think this is very normal in the course of Israel's diplomacy to keep all their options open.

ZAHN: It's interesting that you should mention that, because there are reports this morning that basically say that the only reason Israel agreed to go along with this Bush plan to allow for monitors to come in and take a look a those six Palestinians who the Israelis call terrorists was that they have -- the U.S. has agreed to stand by Israel on this UN matter. Is that the way you read it?

RICHARDSON: Yes. I think that the U.S. in the Security Council got the signal from Israel that, yes, we're going to allow them in, but you help us with the makeup of the team, the scope of the team. And I think that's what's happening. I don't see the differences as that broad. I think what is happening is you have to look at the United Nations. It's over 170 countries. Even though Kofi Annan I think is unbiased, and he's trying to do the best he can, you know; Israel gets outvoted. We used to get outvoted there by about 140-2 on a lot of issue relating to settlements, relating to violence issues in the UN General Assembly. So Israel is trying to keep their options open by buying time on these issues to see if the Ramallah agreement and the prisoners are released. And that's simply what's happening.

ZAHN: If we can move you on to another area you know quite a bit about is the issue of energy. And we know there was a well-placed and planted story in the Friday "New York Times" saying the Saudis were going to potentially use the oil weapon against the United States, that Saudi is coming after that saying that's simply not true -- a lot of analysis this morning saying that that was planted for a very specific reason. What do you see happening if the violence continues in the Middle East, how will Saudi Arabia react with oil?

RICHARDSON: In the end, I think the Saudis will be with us. But I think the Saudis have felt that on the Middle East that we have not been evenhanded. Now at the same time, I don't think the Saudis have had their moral leadership against some of the Palestinian atrocities here. So I think the meetings between President Bush and Abdullah, I got to deal with current Prince Abdullah on energy, were very good that they get to know each other. I don't think the Saudis would ever use oil as a weapon, because it's very much against their interest, along with other OPEC and Persian Gulf countries, because a lot of their treasury is bankrolled that way.

At the same time, you can't preclude that possibility. I think the Saudi plan that was put out is a starting point, the peace plan that involves eventually Israel getting recognition and protection in exchange for a Palestinian state. I think that's the next step the Bush administration and Secretary Powell should focus on.

But at the same time, I think it was good that the two leaders get to know each other. Abdullah is a straight shooter. He's strong. But personal relationships are very important. And I think that was achieved when they met in the president's ranch in Texas.

ZAHN: Well, we thank you for your insights. You don't sound like you're running for governor. You sound like you're running for president, sir.

RICHARDSON: No. I'm running for governor. I'm totally committed to this. I care about jobs and education in New Mexico. If you want to here about it, I'll keep going.

ZAHN: We will -- we will call you back at another morning to talk about your race and why you didn't have enough politics at the UN and then as energy secretary you want more. All right, we will have you back to talk about the race some morning. Again, good of you to join us today.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

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