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White House Press Conference

Aired February 18, 2003 - 12:35   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Best case scenario, Iraq becomes a democracy. But than what? What happens to all the other countries in the volatile region of the Middle East? Will democracy spread or will there be a backlash? Ambassador Ed Walker joins us now, live with his insight. He's a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, to Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and also served in the United Nations as the deputy permanent representative during the Clinton administration. Also a former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.
You know this region about as well as anyone, Ambassador. If the Iraqi government were to turn and become a democracy -- and that's a huge if, obviously -- but would that spread to the rest of the Arab world?

AMB. EDWARD WALKER, FMR. AMB. TO ISRAEL & UAE: I don't think democracy is like a common cold. You can't catch it. It takes hard work, it takes a lot of money and it takes time.

BLITZER: But it spread in Eastern Europe and the former Eastern Bloc and the Warsaw Pact, and we see what's happened in the few years, the decade since that whole situation collapsed.

WALKER: Well, I would be inclined to suggest that if there's going to be democracy spreading in the Middle East region, it's going to come places other than Iraq first. You've already got momentum in this direction with reforms called for by Crown Prince Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, with parliamentary elections being built into Qatar, a Parliament working in Bahrain. What I've been told by the Bahraini government is they're afraid THAT the efforts in Iraq will set them back, because it will cause internal problems for them.

BLITZER: Hold that thought for just a moment, because we have some news that's developing. I want to go to Leon Harris in Atlanta with this breaking news.


Let's continue "Showdown: Iraq." Once again, joining us, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, Ed Walker.

Mr. Walker, Mr. Ambassador, thanks once again. Why is democracy, at least up till now so alien to so much of the Arab world?

WALKER: Well, I think it's because the institutions of democracy haven't really been formed there. They have a much smaller period in which they developed, compared to say the United States, institutions such as free press, such as parliaments. Just the experience of dealing in a democratic society, the responsibilities it places on the citizens, all of this is building in the region, but it's a long way to go. And it takes time.

BLITZER: As you know, there was an initiative a few months ago. The Secretary of State Colin Powell, he had this initiative to try to promote democracy in the Middle East. I happen to have been in Qatar on that day when he issued that announcement. The next day the emir and foreign minister of Qatar went ahead and welcomed it, but virtually no one else in the Arab world seems to have said, you know what, this is a pretty good idea.

WALKER: It's an excellent idea; it's a good initiative. The problem that I was told, I went to Egypt right after that, was that it was taken out of context by many people in the Middle East. They saw it in the context of some of the statements by some of our fundamentalist Christian sects talking about Islam and talking about Mohammed. They thought of it as an attack on Islam rather than a helpful initiative in order to try to build democracy and build responsive government.

BLITZER: Stand by for one more moment. Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, is answering questions about a possible second U.N. Security Council resolution. We'll pick this conversation up. Let's listen in.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: Well, as the president said, we would welcome the chance for the United Nations to speak out on this matter. The president has made it clear that as far as the United States is concerned it is not mandatory, but it is something that we continue to talk to our allies about.

QUESTION: One last thing on the resolution, if I may? One thing that 1441 lacked that, I presume you would find useful, is some sort of a timetable, a deadline. Is that the main issue in terms of deciding whether or not to seek such a...


FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to entertain any guessing or speculation about the language of it. That remains something that we're talking about in private with the allies.

QUESTION: We're not talking about language. What would you have to put in a second resolution to make it more palatable to the other members of the Security Council beyond the U.S. and Britain?

FLEISCHER: Well, the key thing that the president wants to have in there is that it enforces Resolution 1441, making clear that final meant final and serious consequences means serious consequences.

QUESTION: But what do you add to a second resolution to get the rest of the council to go along?

FLEISCHER: Well, those are the parameters the president has set, and the president will leave the wordsmithing to the diplomats who have a history of working these types of issues through, and we will see what the future holds.

QUESTION: Regarding the hang-up right now with the Turks over U.S. troops being able to use Turkey. Is the president offended in any way that the hang-up seems to be over money?

Does he think that this is a matter of principle and that money shouldn't enter into it?

FLEISCHER: I think the president understands that Turkey is in a difficult position, and Turkey has some important decisions to make. The president respects the government of Turkey and the people of Turkey.

The United States and Turkey have a long history going back decades of being strategic partners, and we will see ultimately what Turkey decides and what the final outcome is.

QUESTION: Is the president optimistic that there'll be an agreement?

FLEISCHER: I think the president is waiting to find out what the final determinations will be. I would not characterize one way or another.

QUESTION: And would it be a blow if there is no agreement?

FLEISCHER: Well, let's wait and see what happens, and we'll take it in turn.

QUESTION: What gives you the confidence to dismiss North Korea's threats as predictable and, you know, not cause for alarm when so often you seize on words by Saddam to cite as evidence of a warlike intent?

What would it take for North Korean threats to be taken seriously?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, I'd just remind you that this is not the first time that North Korea has used strident rhetoric as a diplomatic tool.

North Korea does have a history that they've repeated numerous times in numerous ways of using strident rhetoric as a way to blackmail other nations into providing economic or other benefits to the North Koreans.

What the president has said is that that method of doing business will no longer be effective, and the president is going to continue to work through the diplomatic approach with China, Russia, and South Korea and Japan.

BLITZER: We're listening to Ari Fleischer. We'll continue to monitor the White House press briefing. He's answering some questions now on the situation involving North Korea, but we earlier heard him discuss about the possibility of a second U.N. Security Council resolution.

Rejoining us once again is the former U.S. Ambassador Edward Walker.

Let's talk about this issue of Turkey, which is very important. Haggling over money, it seems sort of unseemly, but the Turks have lost a lot of money since the first Gulf War.

WALKER: Yes, they estimate something like $80 billion in lost revenues from trade sanctions which the United Nations put in place, but Iraq was one of their major trading partners and it's hurt them. They're trying to recover some of that ground and also ensure themselves against the situation after U.S. military action.

BLITZER: I can't imagine, though, that in the end, if the president of the United States orders military action against Iraq, the Turks won't be with the U.S.

WALKER: Listen, I've been working with the Turks on this issue for a number of years before this, and I agree with you. I think they will be with the president. Just like the Gulf states are all with us right now and helping our forces.

BLITZER: It's a matter of that. Let's get back to the issue that I asked you to come out and talk about, democracy in the region. Is there anything, that doesn't seem overly overhanded, the U.S. could do that would promote democratic traditions, democratic structures in the Arab world? Because, as you say, a lot of people saw it as interfering in their own political culture when the secretary of state in December came out with this initiative.

WALKER: Yes, I think there are a lot of things that we could do in terms of building up civil society, helping nongovernmental organizations get organized in a responsible way, bringing linkages between American NGOs and NGOs in the region. People that way -- that way, they're going to get experience with dealing with democracy and they'll be in a much better position. But also in the press, if we can work with some of the Arab press to help them understand what a modern press or modern media involves, I think we're going to have a faster growth towards democracy.

BLITZER: Ambassador Ed Walker, always good to have you, now the -president of the Middle East Institute, I forgot to mention that...

WALKER: That's right.

BLITZER: ... here in Washington, an important research center here in the Nation's Capital. Appreciate it very much.

WALKER: Thank you.


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