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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Discussion with Ambassador Joseph Wilson

Aired March 14, 2003 - 09:17   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR; Let's turn to ambassador Joseph Wilson, the last American diplomat to be face to face with Saddam Hussein. He joins us from Washington.
Welcome back, Mr. Ambassador.

AMB. JOSEPH WILSON, FMR. U.S. CHARGE D'AFFAIRES: Good morning, Paula. How are you?

ZAHN: I'm fine, thanks.

My question to you is you have talked a lot about Saddam Hussein's strategy over the years by selectively dumping documents and then creating delay. Was this all his grand design, or did he get lucky?

WILSON: No, I think it's part of the rope-a-dope strategy. I think that he has found that he's on the ropes again, and he's got to dump another piece of information in the hopes that it will get him off the ropes, and you can anticipate this up to the bitter end. If deadlines are set, he will wait till the 11th hour and then offer the minimal amount that he thinks is necessary to avoid the hammer coming down. I think that's what he's doing this time as well.

ZAHN: Do you have any reason to believe that he's destroyed 3.9 tons of VX nerve agent?

WILSON: I wouldn't have any particular reason to believe that he's done it or not done it. I mean, I think that's what he's really done here is given some documentation that allows the inspectors to go forward on another avenue, it seems to me.

ZAHN: What difference will it make in the process?

WILSON: Well, I don't think it's going to make much difference at all. I think the positions are pretty hardened. My guess is what you're seeing this morning, you'll see the president come out at 10:00, and he will offer a different type of political cover to Tony Blair from the resolution. Tony Blair needed two things. He needed the resolution, but he also needs a renewed commitment to the Middle East peace process. I think that they've probably decided they're not going to get a resolution, and therefore, they're going to provide him the cover of a renewed commitment to the Middle East peace process. They'll go off to the Azores, declare that Saddam hasn't done enough, and the only way to rid him of weapons of mass destruction is to invade, and they'll go forward, I think, sometime around the end of next week, the beginning the following week. ZAHN: I don't want to sound completely obsequious here, but you predicted this weeks ago on our show and you talked about the importance of the Middle East for Tony Blair. What kind of political cover would that really provide him at this juncture when the public opinion polls are so negative about moving ahead on a potential war?

WILSON: Well, feel free to be obsequious. It's not often that happens to me.

ZAHN: You were right.

WILSON: I think, ultimately, he will be able to persuade those within his party that he has achieved something out of this, which is a renewed commitment to the Middle East peace process, which they're very concerned about in Western Europe. And they are very concerned that the American policy seems to have lost that second pillar. The first pillar always being Israel's best ally, but the second pillar being the bridge between Israel and its Arab neighbors. They want a renewed commitment to find a just and lasting solution to the Israel- Palestinian problem.

Think they feel, and I tend to agree with them, it is only when you actually pull that thorn out of the Middle East that you're going to be able to address all the other issues that are of concern to everybody -- Arab economic advancement, Arab democratization, Arab enfranchisement, justice, rule of law, the fight for control of Muslim orthodoxy, all of that. Everybody believes so long as you got this fight between Israel and the Palestinians, you're not going to make progress on the rest of the issues that afflict the region.

ZAHN: We've got about 30 seconds left. I want to share with you something that caught our attention in "The Washington Post" this morning, having spent many times -- a lot of time at the U.N., I want you to help you understand what this means. A diplomat from one of the undecided nations said -- quote -- "A lot of us feel bad about doing Saddam's bidding, but that appears no worse than carrying out a war for the Americans." How widely held of a view is that?

WILSON: Well, nobody wants to be Saddam Hussein's last defender. And everybody signed on to 1441. Remember, it was unanimous. And it was a restatement of all of the previous resolutions, but it was also a call for disarmament. And so long as we could have maintained the focus on disarmament, then I think everybody would have agreed that we would go forward robustly. The problem people have is when you start talking about invading a country for the purposes, not just of regime change, but then the reverse domino of creating systems in your own image throughout the Middle East, that's something that gives people a lot of pause throughout the world, because there's been a lot of experience with failed efforts, imperial domination, colonialism, neocolonialism, etc., etc.

ZAHN: Ambassador Joseph Wilson, we're going to have to leave it there today. Thanks for your time.

WILSON: Paula, nice to be with you, as always.

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