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American Morning

Interview With Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

Aired June 07, 2002 - 08:44   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning again from Washington D.C. I have the honor now of spending some time with the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak. Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. Good of you to join us this morning.

I wanted to start off this morning by talking about terrorism. And "The New York Times" reported that Egyptian intelligence tipped off the U.S. that there might be attacks -- and this was a week before September 11th -- on American targets. What exactly did happen between Egyptian officials and American officials?

HOSNI MUBARAK, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) American intelligence a long time ago before the 11th of September, and we have continued that, intertwined (ph) with (UNINTELLIGIBLE). The information which was given to the American officials before the 11th of September was general information. We knew that something was going to happen. We didn't know definitely where. But it's against the American interests. We didn't know in the States, outside the States, what other factors, and I said that very clearly in "The New York Times."

ZAHN: And what was the reaction of American officials to that information?

MUBARAK: This is not the first information to be given to them. We have -- we continued to exchange information for quite more than years, but we described this after the 11th of September. I think we take all this information, take it from headquarters to make assessment, and we had no definite goal for that.

ZAHN: "The New York Times" says you received your information from an agent who somehow penetrated Al Qaeda. How much information have you gotten out of that connection?

MUBARAK: We have our own ways and means to contact some people there by special persons who were there while kept safe in some place. We use them for the same reason.

ZAHN: And how would you characterize the level of your country's penetration of Al Qaeda?

MUBARAK: Look, we have so many agents there, and I think the United States is using these agents now. That's why we could make -- get the information from them. It's not a problem just to go there. As far as we used to have some people before the American attacks on Afghanistan.

ZAHN: You have thousands of prisoners in Egypt, many of whom are opposed to your government, some of them members of Jihad, which people widely believe is a subsidiary of Al Qaeda. How much information have you gotten from those interrogations?

MUBARAK: I think these people are in jail now. They didn't have more contact with Al Qaeda. Those who had contact with Al Qaeda on some elements, few elements, which were being captured outside the country and was being sentenced for life sentence, and we brought them to Cairo and in this case we used them.

ZAHN: So are you saying more of your information then has come from these agents who have somehow penetrated Al Qaeda?

MUBARAK: We confirmed that from the agents. We used to have some information coming from the agents, but we use this to make -- to confirm. This is the work of intelligence.

ZAHN: Do you believe Osama bin Laden is still alive?

MUBARAK: I cannot say that he's alive or dead. I have not had any news that he's dead.

ZAHN: And...

MUBARAK: I think he's still alive. I think.

ZAHN: And what would make you believe that?

MUBARAK: No definite information that he completely died or no activity for him anywhere is still -- especially every now and then, we have threats coming from him, but we don't know where.

ZAHN: And based on this constant flow of information that your country is exposed to through your intelligence officials, what do you think is the likelihood that the U.S. will be struck again by Al Qaeda?

MUBARAK: Look, we are living now in a crazy world. Violence and terrorism is everywhere. That's why I see President Bush about his campaign against terrorism. Everybody you never know now the situation -- problems everywhere in the world. Terrorist groups start in Chechnya and Afghanistan, against Russia, so you cannot guarantee that these kind of people will put an end to their activity of violence.

ZAHN: And although Al Qaeda's power structure has been degraded by this war on terror, based on what you're saying now, do you think it is capable of marshaling together forces, reconstituting itself and carrying off a campaign, the specter of which we saw on September 11th?

MUBARAK: I don't go through the details about this, but I cannot give you guarantee you or tell you that these people have stopped their activity. They are going to work. Our information that they are active and they are going to be much more active. So that's why we say we have to take care of that.

ZAHN: Let's move on to the Middle East now. You will be spending the weekend with the president at Camp David. What kind of a role will Egypt play in this ongoing process? And do you see your country becoming even more involved than the Saudis are?

MUBARAK: Look Egypt has been involved in the peace process since it started. We are not involving ourselves just now.

ZAHN: Sure.

MUBARAK: We have the country who started the peace process before, since 1977, when Sadat made his initiative. It's not something new to us. We're continuing our effort for the problem with the Middle East. We didn't spare any effort for that. Our role, I think, is very well known. We cooperate with the United States in that field. We have contacts with the Israelis. We continuously either advise the Israelis or speak with the Palestinians just to try to bring an end to the violence which is going on there.

ZAHN: President Mubarak, if you wouldn't by standing by, we're going to take a short break. This is commercial television, after all. Someone needs to pay for this interview. We'll be right back from Washington D.C. in about a minute or two.

Please stand by.


ZAHN: And welcome back to the Blair House here in Washington D.C. I continue my interview with the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak.

Welcome back, sir.

Let's continue to talk about the Middle East. You have publicly declared that a Palestinian state basically be called for in advance of its borders being determined. If that happens, can you guarantee there will be no more suicide bombings?

MUBARAK: Look, nobody can guarantee there will be no suicide bombings until there is two states living beside each other. According to the statement given by the president, having two states is the best guarantee to stop suicide bombing. But in the present situation, you cannot guarantee. Neither the Palestinian nor the Israelis would be able to put an end to that, unless they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) give hope to the people. This will help at least advising the people not to create much more violence in there.

ZAHN: Is there ever any justification for an 18-year-old a 19- year-old, a 30-year-old strapping explosives to themselves and blowing themselves up to kill innocent civilians in the process?

MUBARAK: Look, we are against killing innocent civilians. By all means. we are against that, if it's on the Israeli side or on the Palestinian side. But look, why are they doing this? We should see the course. The course is that the people are desperate from the present situation. They cannot find. They cannot work. They cannot live. They cannot find medicine. They cannot send their school to children, so the people, they are desperate, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which is being graduate from the American university at 25 years old. I don't remember its name. Suicide bomb -- 25 years of what (ph)?

ZAHN: So on one hand, you're condemning suicide bombings, but you're saying you understand why you think they happen?

MUBARAK: I tell you, we have to cure the cause, which needs the people to make suicide bombs. We have to find the cause, and deal with the cause so as to avoid and put an end to the suicide bombing.

ZAHN: There are many people out there who believe that maybe Egypt should be playing a role in...

MUBARAK: Should be what?

ZAHN: Playing a role in creating a more moderate framework, where economic deprivation would not go on. I mean, to what extent do you think moderate Arab states could get involved in helping restore the economy, that the Palestinians are living with?

MUBARAK: I think the Congress is expected to convene that should be -- form a group to work for the economy and for the Palestinians. And we have to start with the building (ph) infrastructure being destroyed. I think all of the countries in the whole world should participate in that.

ZAHN: As you know the...

MUBARAK: Not only the Arab countries. The international community participate, because this area is sensitive to all of us, to the European, to the American.

ZAHN: The Egyptian press is sometimes, is filled with anti- Semitic and anti-Israeli statements, and I wanted to share with our audience something that appeared in an Egyptian newspaper, "Al Ah Rah." And the quote was, "The Jews and the Israeli intelligence agency Moussad are behind the vicious attack on the United States."

Mr. President, your government appoints the heads of the three most popular newspapers. You also own newspaper printing companies. Why doesn't -- why don't you stop this?

MUBARAK: Look, it's a free press first of all. We cannot put restrictions on the press. It would not be accepted. They could go to the court. But mind you, this anti-Semitic, as you say, we are against it. We made tremendous effort toward that, but at the same time, you have to look at what the Israelis say in their newspaper. Leaders, religious leaders, other leaders, they insult Islam and the way Islam is behaving. That's why the media in our country reply in them, so they have to stop that also. And the criticism of the -- about Semitics, it depends on the rate of violence and the rate of terror in the occupied territory.

So there are so many elements for that, but we are against concerning Semitics (ph).

ZAHN: Could your government be doing more to stop these kind of anti-Israeli slurs?

MUBARAK: Look,I think the government they should do more not to allow the feeling of the people, Muslims in Egypt and everywhere, anti-Semitism, as you say, it is not only in Egypt. It is everywhere. It is in Europe, everywhere, and this is related to the rate of violence, the rate of killing and destruction in Israel. When this rate goes down, you could feel it in the media, even anywhere, that's slowing down.

ZAHN: In closing this morning, let's talk about Yasser Arafat. Could he be doing more to stop the violence? He maintains he has no control Islamic Jihad, the Al Aqsa Brigades and the other militant Islamic groups. Is that true?

MUBARAK: Look, Arafat is now sitting in Ramallah in the very place limited (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They cannot go from one place to another. How could he control this kind of violence? To control it 100 percent is impossible. To control it in the atmosphere, he's living in, he has no control. He has no police, no intelligence, nothing to use against these people. If he want to send somebody from Ramallah to other place, which may take by car 10-15 minutes, everyone could come to checkpoints, therefore, another check (ph) or another one (ph). How do we ask him to control that?

ZAHN: There are people who believe, though, that he has more control over the Palestinian Authority than he cares to admit.

MUBARAK: Look, in every act of violence takes place immediately, you expect that Arafat is responsible. Whether he's responsible or not, the statement comes is Arafat is responsible. We know the situation. For the last explosion, they made Arafat responsible, although we know that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) no ending is complete.

ZAHN: We wish you good luck with your meetings with the president this weekend. Do you intend to eat any Texas barbecue while you're in town?

MUBARAK: I don't know.

ZAHN: You don't know what in store for you. Thank you again for you time. It's an honor to spend this much time with you this morning on AMERICAN MORNING.