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Reactions Abroad

September 18, 2001 at 12:00 AM EST
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ROBERT MACNEIL: Joining me are four members of the foreign staff of The New York Times: London Bureau Chief Warren Hoge; from Hamburg, Steven Erlanger, the bureau chief for Central Europe; chief Moscow Correspondent Michael Wines; and Cairo Bureau Chief Neil McFarquhar.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Gentlemen, for a week President Bush has been trying to forge a coalition against terrorism. From your different vantage points tonight, has he succeeded? Seen from Britain, Warren Hoge, is there an effective coalition in place, ready to act?

WARREN HOGE: He’s probably had the greatest success here because of Britain’s almost national pride in being America’s greatest ally, particularly at moments like this, and particularly with this prime minister, Tony Blair, who showed during the NATO bombing that he would be Europe’s greatest cheerleader for America at war. In Britain, there are some voices being raised, sounding worries about the kind of retaliation, the risk of killing innocent people, of thereby creating new recruits for Islamic fundamentalism. But they tend to be pretty marginalized by the forceful and loud voice of Tony Blair.

ROBERT MACNEIL: And as of the moment, Britain is prepared to send troops, if necessary, to join in a military exercise.

WARREN HOGE: Britain is prepared to send troops, as it has in the past, absolutely.

ROBERT MACNEIL: From Germany, Steven Erlanger, do you see a commitment as unequivocal there and in Central Europe, a readiness to use force?

STEVE ERLANGER: There is a very sharp commitment on the part of the Germans, a kind of solidarity which has I think been very refreshing to Washington, because Germany is a place where its size isn’t often matched by its activities, you know, by its commitments. I don’t think, however, given the need for the German parliament to support the use of force that the Americans are likely to ask the Germans to participate.

But they will want base rights, over flight rights, and the rest of Europe is quite strong; they see this as an attack not just on the United States but on the entire system of western values, of openness, of a free economy, and they know there must be a response. The only worry is that the United States will drag them without proper consultation into a wider war that somehow becomes West versus Islam. But I don’t think Washington intends to do that.

ROBERT MACNEIL: And are they feeling not adequately consulted to date?

STEVE ERLANGER: I think Washington first has to decide what it wants to do. Washington is being very careful that things don’t leak. So everyone is talking as if consultation is going on at a high level. I think it will happen later, and it will happen all of a sudden, but no one’s pushing the panic button yet, no.

ROBERT MACNEIL: From Moscow, Michael Wines, how committed are Russia’s leaders to the war Washington has declared on terrorism?

MICHAEL WINES: Well, I think the extent of the commitment here so far at least is considerably less than you’ve heard in Germany and in Britain. You know, there is a great uneasiness with the United States here and has been ever since the war in Yugoslavia three years ago.

And I think that that in some ways is coming home to roost with the United States right now with the Russians. They’re suspicious of American military power. They are not at all happy with the idea of letting NATO forces or American forces into central Asia.And frankly there is to a certain extent a feeling here, at least among the public, and they say among the elite, that in some ways the Americans have gotten their comeuppance for trying to act like the global superpower.

In the end I think the Russians have to make a decision, a very tough decision about whether they want to be part of Europe or not. And in the very end I think they may very well wind up becoming more strongly supportive of the United States. But so far I think it’s up in the air.

ROBERT MACNEIL: We see that today Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and Jiang Zemin of China had a telephone call in which they promised to work together on forming some kind of mechanism to deal with terrorism, including the United Nations, through the United Nations, which was particularly mentioned. Does that mean that Russia is not too anxious to join a coalition, which is American-led and which involves promises from NATO perhaps?

MICHAEL WINES: Well, as I said, I think the NATO element of it makes them quite uneasy, and it is boilerplate for the Russians to say that they want all these sort of operations to be conducted under United Nations auspices.

Now, having said that, the Russians have not ruled out, at least as far as I know, allowing European nations and perhaps the United States to either use some of their facilities or the facilities of some central Asian nations. There’s been a good deal of back and forth over that. But as the Undersecretary of State John Bolton said here just yesterday, he thinks the Russians have ruled – neither ruled anything in nor ruled anything out.

ROBERT MACNEIL: In Cairo, Neil McFarquhar, are moderate Arab states, starting with Egypt, willing to join a U.S.-led coalition against terrorism?

NEIL McFARQUHAR: They have said that they are willing to join in the fight against terrorism, but they are very leery about the United States attacking anybody before there is proof of who carried out the attack.

When you see political cartoons in the newspapers saying things like – there’s a group of American generals around saying, okay, the planes are loaded with bombs, and a million soldiers are ready to go, now who do we attack, and the general in the corner saying, well, just pick a piece of paper out of a hat. So they really don’t want it to be any kind of rash action; they really want it to be a considered attack against whoever perpetrated this.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Do the people you’ve talked to in Egypt and elsewhere think that Washington has made a case yet for a rationale for pursuing Osama bin Laden through the Pakistanis and into Afghanistan?

NEIL McFARQUHAR: I don’t think that the people here are convinced of that, no. I think that while they are horrified by the attack, they really want proof of who’s behind it, and they don’t want to see a response to be what they consider a knee-jerk attack against the Muslim world for carrying out this kind of attack.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Warren Hoge, in London, do the British feel that Washington has made a case yet for singling out bin Laden?

WARREN HOGE: The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, yesterday said that British intelligence, separately from American intelligence, was also pointing the finger at bin Laden, so I think by and large the British do agree that he’s the man.

The British also feel that the attack targeted them. So many of their citizens probably died, maybe up to 300, there is emerging now evidence of cells within Britain. As a matter of fact, there is even the fear being expressed here as is being expressed in the United States that those might be active cells, that the next step might be an attack on some British installation, some British place. So I think the British are convinced that bin Laden is the man, and they are certainly convinced of the degree of the threat and eager to bring him to justice, to punish him, but most importantly I think to forestall the possibility of terror coming to Britain.

ROBERT MACNEIL: And Steve Erlanger, speaking from Hamburg, where, according to the FBI and the American government, some associates of bin Laden, and people who planned this attack lived and worked – do the Germans – are the Germans convinced of the case Washington is making?

STEVE ERLANGER: Well, they’ve said they’ve not found concrete evidence yet that ties the cell here, which was deeply involved in the attacks, to bin Laden. But senior German intelligence officials do say this attack bears all the signatures of Osama bin Laden.

It was against a very symbolic structure; it involved a multinational group of Islamic people who were operating in fairly small cells. It was an attack against a way of life, and bin Laden has never really taken credit for much of any kind of attack. But the Germans are pretty much satisfied that, yes, this was bin Laden. But here, as everywhere, people worry about, you know, bin Laden isn’t necessarily the answer; it’s not the solution.

One bin Laden may be followed by another bin Laden. There needs to be a longer and sustained fight against terrorism, against its financing, against the way it works. People here are also very struck here in the intelligence circle as to how long a planning process this took – this must have taken more than two years to set into motion, and that changes people’s ideas of what they’re fighting against, as well.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Neil McFarquhar, since U.S. support for Israel is so often mentioned as a factor in the anger of many Arabs who are not extremists or terrorists, will the apparent cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians today have an effect on the current situation and the willingness of some Arab governments to side with the United States?

NEIL McFARQUHAR: Well, there have been an awful lot of cease-fires in this conflict since it started about a year ago, and none of them have really held, but I think it’s an important issue, because while the television coverage of the attack in New York has been thorough, it has been juxtaposed with the same kind of violence ongoing in Israel. So when people watch the satellite channels in the Middle East, these days on their screen, they’re seeing the cleanup in New York, but they’re also seeing Israeli tanks firing and protests continuing.

So they say, you know, both in the streets and in the government, that the United States has to do something about stopping that violence and ending the occupation before they can sell or before they can accept some sort of coalition against terrorism, and they said that was a promise to an extent with the coalition against Iraq in the Gulf War — and it never bore — didn’t bear fruit, so they are concerned about joining another coalition that leaves that problem unsolved.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Can I ask each of you how Washington’s leadership and behavior is perceived where you are.

Warren Hoge, after the first wave of solidarity and sympathy, which was so apparent in Western Europe, and particularly Britain, where the queen led a service in St. Paul’s – you’ve all reported some degree of second thoughts, backpedaling, a little, voices of caution raised. How has that been affected by Mr. Bush’s leadership, his rhetoric, the actions he’s taken so far? Does that inspire confidence and reassurance?

WARREN HOGE: I think Colin Powell inspires more confidence. Many Britons have said to me they feel much more comfortable with George W. Bush now that Colin Powell seems to be permanently at his side.

Colin Powell speaks the language of diplomacy; he is somebody who understands both the capabilities and the limitations of military power. This is what the British think. And so they have a much higher degree of comfort with his kind of talking than the more bellicose language of President Bush. So they’re hoping for Bush, they’re behind Bush; this is a very pro-American place in Europe. But there’s a little bit of worry that he’s untested and also that he’s surrounded by some other people who might have a little more hotheaded reaction to what must be done now than Colin Powell seems to be having.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Steve Erlanger, how is Mr. Bush’s leadership and his rhetoric perceived where you are, in Germany?

STEVE ERLANGER: A little worrying, quite honestly. People are being very polite, but they see, often, the kind of terror in Mr. Bush’s eyes when he goes off… off of his script. They worry he will feel too much political pressure to react too soon and in the wrong way. They are hopeful that he will listen to his senior advisers, and they think that he will, and they have a little bit of odd relief, almost, that for an administration that, so far, has regarded relations with Europe as very much secondary, if not tertiary, it is now discovering that, as usual, in a crisis America’s best friends are on this continent.

ROBERT MACNEIL: And, Michael Wines, in Moscow, how is the Washington leadership under Mr. Bush perceived?

MICHAEL WINES: Well, I think that there has been a great deal of uneasiness with the unilateralism that the Russians think the United States has displayed mostly in the last year, but, again, going back to Yugoslavia.

And I think in this case there is great hope, certainly among Russian people and among the leadership, that this will turn out to be something of a turning point in American-Russian relations, a chance for the Americans to consult with the Russians in reality for a change.

The Russians here feel, I think, somewhat ignored in international relations, and so they’re hoping for a much more cooperative attitude. But I have to say, so far there is great suspicion and I think they’re waiting for the Americans to come up with a plan. And when they see that plan, I think they’ll have a better idea.

ROBERT MACNEIL: And, in Cairo, Neil McFarquhar, how is Mr. Bush’s leadership perceived there?

NEIL McFARQUHAR: Across the Middle East the one exception in this whole thing has been Iraq, which has been attacking the United States, what it calls its “cowboy policies.”

But the one thing that has upset the Arabs is apparently in one speech, Mr. Bush used the word “crusades.” That word is fraught with a lot of terrible memories in the Middle East because, of course, the Crusades were used to attack the region. So there has been a lot of discussion that if this is a new crusade, they don’t want to be part of it.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Well, Neil McFarquhar, and gentlemen in London, Hamburg, and Moscow, thank you all very much for joining us.