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President Bush Meets With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

Aired June 26, 2001 - 15:25   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: I am Natalie Allen at CNN center in Atlanta. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is visiting the White House today for the second time in three months. We take you now inside the Oval Office to hear their comments live.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... is willing to lead. I understand the pressures he is under.

Today is my opportunity to once again look him in the eye and tell him he's got no better friend than the United States, and as well tell him that we all must work to break the cycle of violence so that we can begin the process of implementing the Mitchell agreement. Our fervent hope in this nation is that there is peace in the Middle East.

And I'm so honored you came back, Mr. Prime Minister, and I look forward to having the discussion with you. It'll be an add-on to the great discussion we had the last time you were here. Welcome.

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Mr. President. I'm very glad to be here again. Israel is committed to peace. We'll make every effort to reach peace. Peace should be peace for generations, and peace should provide security to the Israeli citizens.

The Jewish people are having one tiny, small country, that Israel, that country with many talents, would have the right and the capability to defend themselves by themselves, and that, of course, we have to preserve and we have to thank God for that every day.

We are committed to Mitchell report and its sequence -- according to sequence. We adopted the Mitchell report and we received the Tenet document, the Tenet plan, and we'll be willing to continue the one thing that we are looking for, that first of all it will be full cessation of hostilities, of terror and incitement. If that will happen, I'm fully convinced that the day will come and we'll have peace in the Middle East.

I would like to thank you, Mr. President, again for coming here. We regard your administration to be a very friendly one. And we would like to thank you for that.

BUSH: Right. And as you know, Mr. Prime Minister, our secretary of state leaves tonight for the Middle East, and our fervent hope is to advance the process for making sure there's peace in that part of the world.

We'll be glad to answer a question apiece.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you expect Prime Minister Sharon -- do you expect Prime Minister Sharon to negotiate under fire, Mr. President?

QUESTION: Mr. President, the same question to both of you: do you think it is possible, do you think it's appropriate to move to the next step in the Mitchell report? They call for a cooling-off period even before there's a full cessation of violence.

BUSH: I think that there has to be -- the cycle of violence must be broken. I look forward to discussing the prime minister about what's realistic and what's possible. But we both believe that it is possible, if there's a strong effort made by both parties, to break the cycle of violence.

Mitchell says it's a sequential process. Step one is to break the cycle. And we have been on the phone with all parties, all the time, it seems like, urging the cycle of violence be broken. And progress is being made. I am here to tell the prime minister, I know there's a level of frustration, but there is progress being made, and for that progress we are grateful.

The prime minister has shown a lot of patience in the midst of a lot of -- you know, in the midst of casualty. But progress is being made. Is it as fast as we would like? No, it's not. But the fundamental question my administration makes is, are we making progress? Is peace closer today than it was yesterday? We believe the answer is yes.

And therefore, the secretary of state leaves tonight to try to advance the process, to make peace more real. And he's going to meet not only with the Israelis, he'll be meeting with the Palestinians as well, urging -- urging the cycle of violence to be broken.

QUESTION: A question to both of you, though, is can we move to step two now, even though there's not a complete end to violence?

BUSH: We're going to discuss all opportunities today, in the meeting today. If I didn't think progress was being made, I would not be sending the secretary of state to the Middle East. We believe we have a further opportunity to advance the peace process. This is an important statement of the progress that's being made. And so, the secretary of state leaves tonight to continue working hard to break the cycle of violence.

Both parties will understand when the level of violence has gotten down to the point where there can be some progress. We just want to make sure that there's a realistic assessment of what is possible on the ground. And we believe that at some point in time we can start the process of Mitchell. SHARON: Thank you. First of all, I would like to wish to Secretary of State Colin Powell success in his trip to the Middle East. I know that he, like the president, makes a major effort to bring security and peace to the Middle East.

The Israeli position is that we can negotiate only, and we would like to negotiate only when there will be a full cessation of hostilities, terror, violence and incitement. Otherwise, I don't think we'll be able to reach peace, which we really take all of us committed to.

One must understand that if last week we had five dead, it's like United States, Mr. President, having 250 killed, or maybe even 300 people killed by terror. And that is thing that one should not compromise with terror. And therefore, I believe that if we stick to what we have been saying for so many times, for such a long time, that it should be full cessation of terror before we move to the other phase, then our neighbors will understand that they have to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, do you see any signs of Yasser Arafat stopped the violence is willing to go to peace with Israel?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, do you see any progress from Arafat's side?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. President...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: Man! I don't know if they wore you out, but I'm certainly worn out.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. President, you said that we should be realistic. Don't you think it's a price for terrorist -- for terrorism if right now the United States will force Israel to begin the cooling-off period and then the -- we see that in the field there still is a continue...

BUSH: Any terror is too much terror. Any death is too much death. We recognize that. And we recognize the pressure that the prime minister is under. And we condemn terror. We condemn violence. We condemn death.

We also believe progress is being made. If you look at the -- yes, there's violence and, yes, there's terror, but it's being isolated. It's beginning to contain. Can the parties do more? Absolutely. And that's what the secretary of state is going to do is to urge Mr. Arafat to do more, to take better control of his security forces. We're going to talk to the prime minister about his attitudes.

We're friends, and I believe -- I believe that what's important from this perspective is not to let the progress that's been made so far to break apart. We cannot let violence take a hold, and so that's why I said I admire the prime minister's restraint and his patience. I understand the difficulties and the pressures. As he just said, five Israeli lives lost is the equivalent of 250. Five is too many.

But nevertheless, progress is being made, and it's essential that we continue the process and continue the progress that's being made. We're gaining by inches, I recognize. Progress is in inches, not in miles, but nevertheless, an inch is better than nothing, and so therefore this administration is committed to working with the parties. We urge people in the region...

QUESTION: That means that...

BUSH: ... we urge people in the region...

QUESTION: That means that...

BUSH: ... to stop the violence, and that's first and foremost. And you know, it's either you're an optimist in life or not, and I'm optimistic that we can start the process on Mitchell at some point in time.

QUESTION: But, Mr. Prime Minister...

SHARON: I would like to answer to the Israeli radio. Yesterday, we had 16 terror attacks and that's included mortar fire, it included side bombs, it included shooting and sniping. We had 10 wounded. So altogether, generally speaking, maybe there are less, but still terror is going on.

And by now, although I would like very much to hear that Chairman Arafat instructed to rearrest those terrorists that are planning and sending and mobilizing those suiciders, he has not done it yet. They are not instructed to arrest them, and they were not arrested. And besides that, he has not instructed yet to stop incitement. And that, of course, he could do, I would say he could have done it immediately because he controlled the media completely.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, will you negotiate under fire?

(CROSSTALK)

SHARON: I said it very clearly. Israel will not negotiate under fire and under terror. We said it because if we will do that, we'll never reach peace. That is the point. It is not what I'm saying, it is not an obstacle, not a barrier against peace. On the contrary, if we'll be very strict, then the Palestinians will understand they cannot gain anything by terror. Therefore, we have to be very strict in order to reach peace, which all of us would like to have.

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN: The prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, and George Bush there in the Oval Office, being pummelled by reporters' questions there on this incredible journey ahead for all sides in the Middle East peace situation.

Ariel Sharon reiterating any real progress in repairing relations with the Palestinians depends on their rejection of violence against Israel. As we heard from President Bush, to CNN senior correspondent there at the White House John King -- it seems that his headline from just this brief meeting, John, before their meeting, is that progress is being made and that the White House is pleased at least with that.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, the president wanted to say progress is being made. He said it was being made in inches, not miles, and that was quite frustrating, but the president trying to put at least a somewhat mildly cautiously optimistic look on all of this, and obviously saying Mr. Sharon was a friend and a show of solidarity there with the prime minister.

But if you splice the remarks of it, two very different views on what should happen next. The administration very much wants -- and that's why Secretary Powell will leave for the region tonight -- the parties to commit to the next step as outlined in that recently released Mitchell Commission report, a cooling-off period beyond the cease-fire.

But Prime Minister Sharon saying he will accept the Mitchell report only, quote, "in sequence," and that there must be a total cessation of violence, not a fragile cease-fire in which there are daily attacks still, a total cessation of violence before he is ready to move on.

So that, a difference of opinion between the United States and the Israelis. Not only is this high-stakes meeting takes place at the White House, but as the administration's involvement moves up another level with this trip by Secretary Powell to the region, a key disagreement there even as these leaders try to claim some progress, and certainly as they put on a show of friendship in the Oval Office just there -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And now they start their meeting. John King at the White House, we thank you.

We will continue to follow the developments, as Ariel Sharon meets George Bush in the White House and have more for you on INSIDE POLITICS in a couple of hours.

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