February 15, 2003
War may bring terror, ambassador says
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON -- If the United States goes to war against Iraq, the chances of a terrorist attack increase, U.S. Ambassador to Singapore Franklin Lavin said during a recent visit.
“We have to operate under the assumption if there is (war against Iraq) that terrorists will be spurred to implement some of their plans,” the Canton native said. “That could be in Southeast Asia or it could be in the United States. They’re quite ruthless, they’re global in scope. You hope for the best, plan for the worst.”
A year and half into his ambassadorship, Lavin has had his hands full with security issues and putting together what could become the first U.S. free-trade agreement in Asia.
He discussed precautions against terrorism and other issues with Secretary of State Colin Powell, FBI Director Robert Mueller and the National Security Council while in Washington last month.
Lavin had been ambassador for only a few months when Singapore intelligence foiled a potentially devastating plot to blow up the U.S. Embassy and attack American interests in the prosperous island nation.
Police arrested more than two dozen suspected terrorists with ties to al-Qaida in December 2001 and last August.
Although authorities are confident they have wiped out that operation, Lavin said the “bad news is you don’t know what you don’t know. The nature of these groups and cells is they have replenishment capability, and that they can draw from alienated segments of the population.”
Lavin addressed the growing threat of terrorism during an informal talk with the New America Foundation, a Washington-based public-policy group.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that there are other (terrorist) networks in Southeast Asia, and I think if things get worse in Iraq, there’s a good chance that whatever is in the terrorist planning pipeline in Southeast Asia, and I would say here in the West, we will see it come out,” he said.
Singapore, a city-state with 4 million people, remains “as safe as any city in the United States,” he added. “It’s precisely because it’s successful that terrorists would be tempted to hit it, as they did the World Trade Center.”
While meeting with federal officials here, Lavin discussed medical care, evacuation and other ways to protect 20,000 Americans living in Singapore in the event of a terrorist attack.
“Our first responsibility is the safety and well-being of the Americans,” he said.
On top of security concerns, Lavin spent much of his 12-day visit pitching a proposed free-trade agreement with Singapore. He said he met with some 200 different business executives in New York and Washington.
The proposed agreement would lower trade barriers between the two nations, encouraging commerce and exchange. It would take effect next Jan. 1 if approved by Congress.
In addition to benefiting Singapore and the United States, Lavin said the agreement could serve as a model for trade agreements with other Asian nations.
Singapore ranks 11th among destinations for U.S. exports. It ranked 14th for exports from Ohio in 2001, the latest year for which state figures are available. Ohio businesses sold $258 million in products and services to Singapore — or 1 percent of the state’s exports.
As he waited at Dulles International Airport near Washington for his return flight to Singapore, Lavin said a tight schedule left no time to see his parents, Carl and Audrey Lavin, in Canton this trip.
“I’ll try to do better this summer in terms of getting back to Canton,” he said.