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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Scholar Discusses Qatar

Aired October 17, 2002 - 12:48   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: For our "One-on-One" segment, we're joined today by Rob Sobhani. He's an adjunct professor of government and international studies at Georgetown University. He was just in Qatar last week and met with its emir.
Rob, thanks for joining us.

ROB SOBHANI, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Thanks a lot.

BLITZER: A lot of people are surprised that this small, little country is taking such an outspoken stance and cooperating with the U.S. Central Command -- the U.S. military on the scene -- in the event of another war.

SOBHANI: Wolf, I had a chance to talk to the emir, Sheikh Hamad. And it's very clear from talking to this man, who's very honest, very forthright, and very direct -- unlike some of the other rulers of the region -- that he has made a decision on two fronts: a strategic relationship with the United States but also, more importantly, a move to democratize Qatar -- a move to reform Qatar.

And when I spoke with him, he talked about women's rights; he talked about a free press zone in the Arab world; he talked about the need for the Arab world to look at itself and change some of its own makeup.

BLITZER: And a lot of our viewers probably know that the Al- Jazeera television network is based there in Qatar.

SOBHANI: Absolutely. And of course, many of the programs that Al-Jazeera has are inflammatory. But, at the same time, I was told by the editors of Al-Jazeera, for example, that they have had more Israelis on Al-Jazeera than Hamas and Hezbollah spokesmen, so it offers a different perspective. But the most important thing that Al- Jazeera offers is a free press zone. All views are open. Everyone can speak freely.

BLITZER: Now, if there's another war between the United States and its coalition partners and Iraq, the Central Command -- the U.S. military branch that would be in charge of this -- they may have their command facility in Qatar.

SOBHANI: Yes. Absolutely. And, the emir has made it very clear: He welcomes the strategic relationship with the United States because he believes, as do the people of Iraq and some of the people that I met with, that Saddam Hussein is a danger. They would like to see the removal of Saddam Hussein. But, they also are aware that there needs to be preparations for it. However, when the time comes for President Bush to give the order, they're ready to be with him.

BLITZER: And I know there's some photos of you and the emir when you were there. When you were there, did you speak about what I have heard from my U.S. government sources -- that in the event of another war -- remember the briefings that we used to have during the first Gulf War, 11 years ago. Those briefings were in Riyadh. The Central Command was there or in Bahrain, the eastern part of Saudi Arabia. By now, all accounts are they are going to be in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

SOBHANI: Absolutely. And the interesting thing about Qatar is that it's not just the military aspect of it, but, for example, just recently, the wife of the emir came out in public and unveiled the Cornell Medical School. This is a revolution in Qatar -- that's a Wahabi state, by the way -- for a woman to go in public without necessarily the full veil -- to unveil a program of medical cooperation with the United States.

This is a country that is going to -- small, as you said, but has enormous importance.

BLITZER: So, if we see General Tommy Franks, the commander of the Central Command, and his personnel showing up in Doha, in Qatar, and have briefings there, what kind of pressure will Qatar -- the emir -- be under from others in the Arab world to stop this?

SOBHANI: I think he'll be under a lot of pressure, Wolf, but he is willing to take that pressure. He believes firmly that it is in Qatar's interest to do this. He's aligned himself with the West -- with the United States -- and believes that it is in the broader interest of the Arab world for this to happen. So, I think he will be under pressure, but he's willing to withstand that pressure, as well.

BLITZER: Professor Rob Sobhani, we always learn something from you, as well.

Thanks for joining us.

SOBHANI: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Welcome back from Qatar.

SOBHANI: Thank you.

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