Jesse L. Jackson, who has announced plans to travel to Iraq as a journalist for his new television show, said yesterday that the Bush administration is attempting to thwart his mission even though he has already obtained Iraqi permission to enter the country.
"There seems to have been some pressure applied from high levels to discourage our pursuit," said Jackson, who has previously traveled to the Middle East as an ad hoc hostage negotiator.
An administration official denied that anyone tried to stop Jackson from traveling to Iraq as either a journalist or a private citizen. "The only thing the State Department did was call their attention to the fact that there is a travel advisory in place for Iraq," the official said. Whether to go, the official said, is "up to Mr. Jackson to decide."
The official travel advisory warns all U.S. citizens that travel in Iraq is dangerous and should not be undertaken until further notice.
Beginning in the fall, Jackson is to be the host of the syndicated "Jesse Jackson Show," which is to be produced in Washington by Time-Warner and Quincy Jones Entertainment. Warner Brothers spokesman Barry Stagg said last night, however, that the corporation would not pay for a Jackson broadcast from Iraq because of the "complexity and expense of the production." Any Jackson effort, he said, would have to be done independently.
Michael Linder, the program's executive producer, said he expects Jackson to "stabilize his journalistic credentials on that first broadcast" from Iraq.
"It's been very difficult," Linder said of the arrangements for the trip. "The administration has made it clear that they do not approve of our mission and they have placed obstacles in our way."
Neither Linder nor Jackson would name the administration officials concerned, and said they do not know when they will be leaving for the Middle East. But Linder said Jackson has been assured he will have access both to high-ranking Iraqi officials and Americans held there.
Linder said he has "every indication" that the Iraqi officials who invited Jackson will let him interview Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Jackson insisted he would be traveling solely as an information-gathering journalist, but did not rule out the possibility that his role could expand into negotiation.
"We're keenly aware of the very sensitive crisis in that area," Jackson told reporters after meeting with Attorney General Dick Thornburgh yesterday. "We do know that communications and journalism, in talking with the affected people, should have some impact."
In a 1984 trip to Syria, Jackson negotiated the release of Lt. Robert Goodman, a Navy pilot who had been captured by Syrian forces after his plane was shot down over Lebanon.