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 warheads. 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."