USIS Washington 

22 January 1999


(NSC official briefs on South Asia, Iraq, Middle East, Iran) (920)
By William B. Reinckens
USIA Staff Writer

Washington -- Bruce O. Riedel, special assistant to the President and
NSC senior Director for Near East and South Asia, predicted that
President Clinton would visit the Asian subcontinent this year if
progress continues with the India-Pakistan dialogue over nuclear
testing and other bilateral and regional issues. He also spoke on the
Middle East Peace Process, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.

Riedel, who annually meets with Washington journalists to discuss
regional foreign policy initiatives, said on January 22 that the
United States sees progress with India on the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty (CTBT).

Although Riedel called last year's underground nuclear tests on the
subcontinent "a setback" for global nonproliferation, the United
States sees progress in the dialogue that is under way between India
and Pakistan. He noted that the United States has responded by
partially lifting economic sanctions against them and that the thorny
issue of the F-16s which Pakistan had paid for but were never
delivered has been resolved.

"We hope that the tests are not eminent," Riedel said about whether or
not both countries might test missiles capable of carrying nuclear

He also said that the United States sees the possibility of progress
with respect to export controls and the use of fissile materials.

"There has been no final decision as far as time is concerned," Riedel
said about the prospects of a presidential visit to the Asian
subcontinent. The success of next week's visit to India and Pakistan
by Strobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State, and other U.S. officials
for the eighth round of dialogues with the two countries, is expected
to be a factor in deciding if the Clinton visit will come about.

Turning to the Middle East, Riedel said: "The Wye agreement is a solid
agreement and a way forward to move the Middle East process toward a
final resolution of Israeli-Palestinian issues ... It is the best
means forward."

Riedel also said that "unilateral" action by either the Palestinians
or the Israelis regarding a May 4 deadline for declaring an
independent Palestinian state would not help the peace process.

The May 4th deadline for the creation of a Palestinian state and the
upcoming Israeli elections on May 17 are two factors outside of the
Oslo Accords that are influencing events outside the peace process
negotiations. "Differences between the parties have to be done at the
negotiating table and not through unilateral acts," Riedel said.

Regarding Iraq, Riedel said, "The international community gave Iraq
most of 1998 to show it was sincere in complying with U.N. Security
Council resolutions."

"It became clear to everyone that Iraq had no intent in complying --
the United States and the international community had gone the extra
mile of diplomacy but Saddam simply was not going to comply," he said.

Riedel said the United States achieved its objectives with Operation
Desert Fox by degrading Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capability
and its capacity to threaten its Arab neighbors militarily. "The
aftermath of Desert Fox is that he (Saddam Hussein) is weaker, and the
region is safer and more stable."

"Our policy now is containment plus replacement," Riedel said about
Iraq today. He noted that the United States is making every effort to
work with opposition organizations to replace Saddam Hussein as the
leader of Iraq. "The United States is energizing and upgrading its
efforts to create an environment to make this happen," he said, noting
that seven opposition organizations have recently been designated as
eligible to receive military equipment from the United States. He also
noted that progress has been made in resolving issues between the two
main Kurdish opposition groups opposed to Saddam Hussein's regime.

"The Iraqi people are the greatest victims of Saddam Hussein" because
the Iraqi leader refused at times to purchase food from the revenues
derived under the U.N. Oil-for-Food program, Riedel said.

He also said that Arab public opinion is recognizing the threat Saddam
Hussein poses to the region through its weapons of mass destruction
programs, and added that he believes that Arab displeasure with
Hussein will be expressed this weekend when the Arab League's Foreign
Ministers meet in Cairo.

"We made it very clear in December," Riedel said, that the United
States is ready to use force against Iraq if it threatens its
neighbors again.

Regarding Afghanistan, Riedel said the Taliban continue to reject
recommendations from the so-called six-plus-two nations (Afghanistan's
immediate neighbors, plus the United States and Russia) to include
other political groups in a broad-based governing coalition. "We will
continue to encourage that process," he said.

"We would like to see a dialogue between governments," Riedel said
about the next step in the relationship between the United States and
Iran. He praised the people-to-people exchanges that occurred last
year between American and Iranian athletes and academics.

Although a cooperative environment is created through exchanges, only
governments can deal with the more sensitive issues, he commented.

Nevertheless, he added, "there are aspects of Iranian behavior which
deeply trouble us." These include Iran's support for terrorism, its
efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and opposition to the
Middle East Peace Process. Regardless of these hurdles, Riedel said,
"we would welcome a government-to-government dialogue with Iran, with
no preset agenda or preset conditions."