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RAY SUAREZ: We get the perspectives of three ambassadors to the United States: From Egypt, Nabil Fahmy, from Morocco, Abdallah El-Maaroufi, and from Tunisia, Hatem Atallah.
Well, I’m sure, gentlemen, you heard the President’s speech last night. He was very careful to say that this was not a war, a struggle, against Islam. What did you make of the speech, Mr. Ambassador?
NABIL FAHMY, Ambassador, Egypt: I think the President made three very important points. One, he was clear in his determination to combat and eradicate terrorism. Secondly he made the point that you were referring to, that this is not a war against Islam or the Arab world, and thirdly, that this will require an international effort because these are trends which exist internationally and which have to be resolved through international effort; that’s something which we support.
RAY SUAREZ: When he asked for help, is Egypt able to give him the kind of help he’s looking for?
NABIL FAHMY: We have already been providing help since day one and will continue to do so.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Ambassador?
ABDALLAH EL-MAAROUFI, Ambassador, Morocco: I was impressed with at least three points that the President made yesterday. One is that the campaign that’s envisaged is a lengthy one and that great prudence and great patience will be required to target the guilty and to avoid punishing the innocent. The second is, of course, the point about the fact that the enemy is not the Muslim faith but rather a group of radical terrorists, and the President went out of his way to emphasize that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and does not condone the kind of terrorist activity that went on in New York and in Washington. And the third point is that he reiterated what he had said, and other officials had said, about the need for Americans to avoid harassing and attacking innocent Muslims or Arabs or Arab-Americans or Muslim-Americans simply because of the way they look or their dress or because they have different beliefs.
RAY SUAREZ: The President also was pretty specific about wanting certain kinds of help from countries like yours: Intelligence, aid in tracking the movements of people who might be involved with these groups. Is Morocco willing to help the United States in this way?
ABDALLAH EL-MAAROUFI: We’ve always stood with the United States in times good and bad. And I think in this case we have been helpful in the past and we will continue to be helpful in the future. The specifics, of course, will be, you know, worked out in detailed discussions in other forum. Certainly we are ready to be helpful in this effort.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Atallah?
HATEM ATALLAH, Ambassador, Tunisia: Thank you, Ray. Indeed the speech yesterday made by President Bush was extremely explicit, especially when it came to the international nature of this phenomena or this scourge. He also explained very clearly that there is not something very specific to a culture, to a region or to a religion. And I think that is extremely important because we’re dealing with something that has no borders — that knows no territorial limits. I think it makes no distinctions between nationalities. I think that point was extremely important, and the President made it very, very clear. He also made clear that because we’re dealing with an international cross-border phenomena, we also are seeking international cooperation. And I think this is extremely important because this is something that is not new that happened just yesterday. This is something that has been going on for a certain period of time. And I think an international stand, like the one being called for by President Bush, is extremely important. And it is something that my country, Tunisia, has been calling for, for a long time. We will certainly support the United States. We have expressed our support to the United States, and we will certainly continue down that road.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there a risk inside your own country of making a public declaration of your willingness to work with the United States against these groups? Are there differences of opinion in your own country?
HATEM ATALLAH: Differences of opinion, I think, there exists differences of opinion in any society, in democratic society around the world today. The problem of extremism in Tunisia has been solved. My President already spoke about it a long time ago. We have dismantled anything that existed in the country. We faced that problem, but we dealt with it. We dismantled everything that existed in our territory back already in the early ’90s. At that time, the President of Tunisia had already spoken about the adoption of an international code of conduct to fight terrorism. And I think it is important that the international community today just stands together. This is a problem that is for the international community to deal with.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Fahmy, is there risk in Egypt because of the problems you face from your own groups that are working against the government?
NABIL FAHMY: As you know, we have been a target of terrorism in the past, and we’ve taken forceful measures against terrorism. At the same time, we recognized early on that in order to truly eradicate this problem, one has to work internationally and regionally with its partners. There may be differences of opinion on this, but I truly believe that the widespread position of the community is to work with determination in complete transparency against terrorism. I find no real problem with that.
RAY SUAREZ: But a group in Egypt, Islamic Jihad, was specifically mentioned by the President. It’s rumored to be a close ally, even in partnership with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda movement. Have you been able to penetrate this movement? Can you give help to the United States?
NABIL FAHMY: Let me clarify that. The group has among its targets to take actions against the Egyptian government. It is not a group working out of Egypt. Actually it’s a group today working from abroad trying to enter Egypt again. This has been one of the groups that we have worked regularly and with determination with our European partners to try to deal with the terrorists that have been traveling in different European countries to try to arrest them, extradite them. So we are determined to pursue this. They are our enemy as well and, yes, we will cooperate with the U.S. on this.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador El-Maaroufi, the President of the United States made his intentions plain on what he would expect from countries in the region, but yesterday the Islamic Council in Afghanistan also made its expectations clear. It said that any action against Muslims from a non-Muslim country would be perceived as an attack against the entire Muslim people. And I’m wondering how that will be heard in Morocco.
ABDALLAH EL-MAAROUFI: Well, I think Morocco is a land of moderation and tolerance. And I think we have stood against international terrorism. We stand against the killing of innocent people. We have particularity in Morocco that the king is both the temporal leader and the commander of the faithful or the spiritual leader. So most Moroccans look to him for spiritual guidance and look to him for spiritual direction. And he, like his father and his grandfather before him, has been a force for tolerance and moderation. Secondly, I think as my colleagues said, Morocco is a democracy. And we have a democratically elected parliament with representation from a large number of political parties, including Islamic parties. We also have a very vibrant civil society with dozens of newspapers and, you know, hundreds of non-governmental organizations. So, Moroccans have many, many ways of expressing their views. And I don’t think there is any problem that I foresee in supporting the government’s position in support of the United States.
RAY SUAREZ: Are there popular movements that would find an open working against the bin Laden organization or against Afghanistan’s interests contrary to what it sees as a course for Morocco to take?
ABDALLAH EL-MAAROUFI: I don’t think there are groups within Morocco which would find it difficult to fight international terrorism or which would fight against people who take innocent lives. So in that sense I don’t think there are any groups that would find it difficult to target terrorists who kill innocent people.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador, what about Tunisia?
HATEM ATALLAH: Well, I think we share exactly the same opinion that my colleagues have expressed here. And, as I said before, this is not specific to any culture, is not specific to any region. This is an international phenomena, and it needs to be dealt with on the international level. As far as Tunisia is concerned, I expressed earlier and I do reiterate the fact that we have faced this scourge before and we dealt with it. In Tunisia today, we do not have any groups or any extremist group of any nature in our territory. The people that still preach that kind of activities are in other countries abroad, but as far as Tunisia is concerned, the territory, we have dismantled everything and we have dealt with that problem already.
RAY SUAREZ: Can the United States expect help with tracking the movements of suspects, cracking down on money laundering, that kind of thing, Ambassador Fahmy?
NABIL FAHMY: All of these same issues are issues we have been raising for years to really deal with terrorism and terrorists we have to work together. They will move from one country or another. We’ve been asking for that so naturally we will help in that as well.
ABDALLAH EL-MAAROUFI: I was going to say that the exact specifics of our contribution, you know, will be determined, you know, in due course. But I think, you know, we are ready to be supportive. As Ambassador Fahmy said, this will require a multi-faceted and multi-lateral approach and different people will provide assistance in different areas as and where they can.
RAY SUAREZ: So those negotiations are already underway or waiting for consultations from your government? Where do they stand?
HATEM ATALLAH: Well, I mean, certainly there will be at one point discussions between our two governments on the issue. At this point we are not aware of any specific requests coming from the United States government. But I would like, Ray, if you’d permit me just 30 seconds to say that, just to add a little bit to what my colleague was saying here — that we’re looking here at an issue that needs a multi-faceted approach. It needs an approach that deals with specific areas. Like the President was saying yesterday, we’re looking at a problem that needs to be dealt with on a diplomatic level, on the financial level, on the economic level, and on any other level, the security included. So we’re looking at an international effort that needs to come from different regions of the world, from different countries of the world but also from different levels of activity.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassadors, thank you for joining us.