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Interview With Neil Livingstone

Aired June 24, 2003 - 20:10   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush meanwhile says time is running out for Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. He made that comment during a joint news conference at Camp David with a key ally in the war on terror, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf.
Senior White House Correspondent John King reports on today's important Bush-Musharraf meeting and on the importance of the U.S.- Pakistan relationship.


JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is hardly perfect but a critical partnership nonetheless.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since September the 11th attacks, Pakistan has apprehended more than 500 al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists.

KING: Yet as Pakistan's President Musharraf enjoyed his Camp David welcome and his fourth meeting with President Bush, there was a sense of deja vu, still no definitive word on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein for that matter.

BUSH: You named two. There are others around too and we're just on the hunt and we'll find them. It's a matter of time.

KING: Washington from time to time has pushed Pakistan to be more aggressive in that hunt and Mr. Musharraf says he is now taking unprecedented steps searching remote tribal areas where the al Qaeda leader might be hiding.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT: Whether Osama bin Laden is here or across the border, your guess, sir, will be as good as mine.

KING: U.S. officials say Pakistan's overall cooperation with the Pentagon, the FBI, and the CIA is quite good and cite the months' long search for bin Laden deputy Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as just one example.

General Musharraf became President Musharraf in a 1999 coup and Mr. Bush raised continuing U.S. concerns about political reforms. Washington also wants Pakistan to ease tensions with India and to do more to halt terrorism in the disputed Kashmir region. But the war on terrorism is by far priority number one from Mr. Bush's perspective. PROF. RICK INDERFURTH, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIV.: The United States cannot win that war without Pakistan's help. There's no question about that.

KING: The president promised a new five year $3 billion aid package, half of it for education and economic development and half for defense and security programs.


KING: Now, White House officials say the two presidents spent a great deal of time talking about education reform. That might seem off topic when the meeting is focused on the war on terrorism but these U.S. officials say perhaps the most lasting benefit that could come from increasing U.S.-Pakistan cooperation is if President Musharraf can deliver on his promise to root anti-American teachings out of Pakistan schools and its mosques -- Paula.

ZAHN: John, let's come back for a moment to what many perceived as a bombshell announcement by the president of Pakistan when he talked about Osama bin Laden potentially moving back across the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. How much of the timing of that announcement had to do with diplomacy, how much to do with hard, cold cash?

KING: Well, U.S. officials have believed for months now that Osama bin Laden might well be going back and forth across the border from Afghanistan, remote mountain areas into Pakistan remote mountain areas, neither of those areas whether it is in Pakistan or Afghanistan are truly under the control of the central governments.

U.S. officials say there is no hard new intelligence suggesting Osama bin Laden is there or anywhere else for that matter but that is where the search is now intensifying and for months Pakistan would not go into those areas.

The most significant change in recent months, U.S. officials say, is that Pakistan is now sending some federal police and some army resources up there and we are told sometimes with the assistance of U.S. Special Forces looking in areas where before because of tribal concerns the Pakistani government, the central government had never sent its resources -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right, John King thanks so much.

And, as John just mentioned President Musharraf making it very clear that he believes now that he's got troops in there. There is a possibility of Osama bin Laden moving back and forth across the border.

I am joined now by terrorism analyst Neil Livingstone in Washington tonight. Welcome, sir. First of all, what do you make of the timing of this announcement?

NEIL LIVINGSTONE, TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think that this was a topic that was sure to come up because it's already become an election topic. In other words, has Bush diverted too many resources to the war on Iraq and is he not prosecuting the war against al Qaeda strongly enough?

And so, I think Musharraf in order to get the aid that he was -- that he received today wanted to assure the president that they're going to do more in going after bin Laden right now.

ZAHN: Well, tell us about the challenges that lie ahead for the Pakistanis. You're going to talk about this area northwest Pakistan that spreads over some 10,000 square miles.

LIVINGSTONE: Paula, this is an extremely rugged area. It's very mountainous and, you know, there is no definable border right there and it's been in the hands of warlords and local tribal leaders for centuries.

The Pakistani army has never really had any impact on that area. They don't really collect taxes. They don't provide a lot of services there because it really is a no man's land, so it's an ideal area for the remnants of the Taliban to hide and for bin Laden if he's still alive and his other henchmen to hideout in that area.

ZAHN: So, give us a sense of what it would take to penetrate this area.

LIVINGSTONE: Well, the United States is doing a lot of signals, intelligence there. We're looking for any effort by bin Laden or his top lieutenants to communicate with other al Qaeda organizations outside of Pakistan.

We're also looking for messengers coming in and out of the area but we really don't have a presence on the ground there. We can go in quickly and come out quickly and I think if the Pakistani army moves in there and really secures some bases it will make it much easier for us to carry out search and destroy missions from those bases.

ZAHN: I know a lot of people in our audience are probably wondering tonight given the superiority of U.S. technology and given the kind of weapons we now have in our arsenal how is it that we haven't been able to find Osama bin Laden?

LIVINGSTONE: Well, we haven't been able to find Saddam Hussein either. You have to remember that both of these individuals are extremely wily, that they have a lot of resources, that they have followers who are going to protect them.

What we think if bin Laden is there is that he has made a deal. He's cut a deal with some of the tribal warlords there and basically they're tied together by kinship and there are very few outsiders in that region. So, as long as he's got a deal with them, as long as it can be sustained, whether it's by money or whether it's by ideology or whatever it is, they're going to protect him and it's going to be very hard to get close to him.

ZAHN: How long do you think he can remain elusive? LIVINGSTONE: I don't think he can remain elusive forever. At some point, someone will sell him out or will catch a messenger coming out who will lead us back to him. We'll intercept some kind of communication that we can triangulate on and get at him. If he's still alive, I think we'll find him eventually.

ZAHN: Well, Neil Livingstone, I know you're very familiar with that territory and we appreciate your sharing your insights with us this evening. Thanks for dropping by.


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