BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: Events: Newsnight
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

How much is America prepared to pay for support? 26/9/01

President Bush is wooing the world. International friendships are burgeoning by the day as he seeks a coalition against terrorism. There are instant gifts for those countries that promise him their support. And some old friends, Israel for instance, find themselves unexpectedly under pressure. Today's priority for the United States is not to upset the Arabs. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, met today with Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres. A sombre, unfriendly meeting which the Israelis had twice postponed. But it had the Americans crowing with delight, calling for "immediate concrete actions" to follow it up. A lasting cease-fire is the aim. Not very likely, but the pressure on both sides has been intense. Israelis and Palestinians are toeing the line.

Immediately in the aftermath of the bombings in America, the Israelis believed that they were vindicated, that the United States is now going to make a common front with them. But as the dust has settled, Israel has discovered it may actually be one of the biggest losers. All of a sudden, there is pressure on them from both the Europeans, but especially from the Americans.

For a host of reasons, America wants the Arab states on its side. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict undermines their support, so it's being defused. Tiny Jordan, strategically sited on Iraq's border, has been rewarded already for its co-operation with a Free Trade Agreement, a rare concession indeed by the American Congress. An altogether bigger prize is Iran, land of the ayatollahs, America's enemy for 22 years. It too is being courted, though so far with mixed results. And, volte-face extraordinary, America is cuddling up to Russia, previously shunned, not least for being seen for being brutal to the rebellious Chechens. President Putin has been quick off the mark. It's still war - war with the Chechens - but Mr Putin came up on Monday with an offer of peace talks to Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov - an offer quickly accepted. Again the Americans have expressed delight, whatever the outcome. Mr Putin, of course, presents his Chechen problem as one of Islamic terrorism, so he's offering the Americans considerable support.

The US Department of State has come out openly in saying it believes Osama Bin Laden and his people have been directly involved in Chechnya. That's the most clear justification for what the Russians have done. Nobody in Washington is going to justify some of the carpet bombing of the Russians, but it's quite obvious now nobody in Washington is going to ask any awkward questions.

America's relations with India and Pakistan have also turned turtle. President Bush from the beginning warmed to India, the world's most populous democracy, with Pakistan decried as a military dictatorship. Both countries have been in the dog-house for testing nuclear weapons, but now sanctions against both of them have been lifted. Pakistan has had its debts re-scheduled and has American backing for an IMF loan. Lollipops all round. The biggest lollipop of all to the UN - more than $0.5 billion, 400 million, of American money long owed to the UN coughed up at last. In Kabul today a Taliban-directed mob torched the old, long-empty American embassy, a symbolic gesture of disdain, not to say of hatred. It is a hatred shared by some of the peoples inside President Bush's new coalition. And here's a potential problem. Governments can be bought off, but they still have to cater to popular feeling. As indeed does America's own government.

Most Americans are willing to take even allies of questionable repute on in the war against terrorism. We certainly were prepared to do so in previous wars, such as W.W.II, when we allied with Joseph Stalin. Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union fought together against a common foe. The stakes here are not quite so serious, perhaps, but they are substantial.

To a certain extent, the American behaviour is that of any power - it makes quick calculation about what the immediate interests are, rather than a long-term one. But there is also the luxury of a superpower - the belief that one can pick friends at will and throw them away at will when the need for them is no longer there. The atrocity has fostered a moral crusade. But what we are seeing exploited are the cold, hard politics of national interest, on all sides. Holding such a coalition together long-term will be tricky.

Links to more Newsnight stories