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Zinni Recalled From Middle East

Aired December 15, 2001 - 11:08   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now we turn to the world's other major hot spot, the Middle East. We've just gotten word that Washington is recalling its envoy to the region, General Anthony Zinni. He's to return for policy meetings with State Department officials. This comes amid more death and violence in Gaza today, and new developments at the United Nations regarding the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

For all of that, we go live now to CNN senior international correspondent, Sheila MacVicar in Jerusalem.

Hello, Sheila.

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Kyra. Well, in the last few minutes we have indeed learned that the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, is recalling General Zinni, asking him to come back to Washington for consultations with President Bush and the Secretary of State.

Now General Zinni had arrived in the region saying that he intended to stay here until a viable cease-fire had been achieved between Palestinians and Israelis. Clearly conditions on the ground are not in any way conducive to that at the moment.

Now in the last few moments, we have also learned from Palestinian sources in Ramallah, where Yasser Arafat is holed up in his office still surrounded by Israeli tanks, that he has sent a letter to President Bush asking that General Zinni stay in the region, come back here and continue to work to mediate towards a cease-fire.

Now, of course, one of the reasons why General Zinni is leaving the region, conditions being what they are here, is that the week has seen Israel break contact with Yasser Arafat, declare him irrelevant, and say that as Mr. Arafat was not prepared to do what was necessary in the War against Terror here, what is called the War against Terror here, then clearly the Israelis were going to have to take matters into their own hands.

Now we see another example of that today in the Gaza Strip. Israeli tanks went into the Palestinian community of Betanune (ph). The Israeli defense forces say that this is a community which is used by Hamas militants to stage attacks against Jewish settlements in occupied Gaza territory. They went in there. There was a gunfight that erupted. We are told now that four Palestinians are dead as a result, 48 others wounded. Some of them, hospital sources say, very seriously wounded. They say that they expected the death toll there may climb.

There's a fifth Palestinian also killed in an earlier battle down in the southern end of Gaza today, bringing today's death toll so far of Palestinians to five. Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Sheila, also I understand Yasser Arafat is supposed to speak tomorrow. What can you tell us about that?

MACVICAR: He's going to make a speech on Palestinian TV tomorrow. Now we are told by Palestinian officials that, first the speech isn't yet written, but what it is expected that he will say is that he will call again, this is something he has done before, he will call again for a cease-fire and try to explain to the Palestinian people why a cease-fire is necessary.

Now what the Israelis, the Americans and others will say, it is not words by actions that are important and people will be looking very closely to see, not just what Mr. Arafat says he wants, but what he does, whether he goes after and makes the arrest, cracks down on the infrastructure of terrorism, as Israel and others have demanded -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: CNN's senior international correspondent Sheila MacVicar, live in Jerusalem. Thank you.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to continue this topic now. Anthony Zinni, the U.S. Envoy in the Middle East has been told to come on home. Kelly Wallace of the White House talked to us about this last hour.

How's it being viewed, Kelly? A bit of a setback I would assume, or not?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well you know, Bill, likely to have some criticism around the world. People might be saying that this is not the time for General Zinni to leave. And, of course, we heard Sheila just reporting that Palestinian leader Arafat apparently sending a letter to President Bush encouraging him to keep General Zinni in the region. We don't have any reaction to that just yet.

But this move not completely unexpected, Bill, because just yesterday the White House Press Secretary was saying from the podium that General Zinni is not going to remain in the region forever, and the administration is really billing this as General Zinni coming back to Washington to talk with President Bush, to talk with the Secretary of State of and really to do an assessment in light of all the recent events in the region about where the U.S. should go from here.

One point, Bill, though that senior officials are trying to hammer home, they're saying "look, the United States will definitely remain engaged" -- a very windy day here at the White House -- and that even if General Zinni is coming back to Washington, the U.S. is still going to remain engaged.

You have diplomatic contacts in the region. You obviously have Secretary of State Colin Powell likely to have phone calls with the Israeli Prime Minister and the Palestinian leader. So they're saying the U.S. will remain engaged and that General Zinni will, at some point, return to the region. But right now, coming back to Washington for a reassessment of where they go from here. Bill.

HEMMER: Kelly, I'm curious to know, is the White House putting any spin on this with regard to progress that he may or may not have made on the ground? Certainly it would not appear that way, but behind the scenes, is there progress that Zinni can talk about?

WALLACE: Well no, behind the scenes they're saying, look General Zinni went to that region and just days after he got there, we had those suicide bombings in Israel which claimed the lives of more than two dozen Israelis.

So the White House is saying that the Islamic militants who claimed responsibility for those bombings, basically derailed any efforts by General Zinni. You heard Zinni say he was going to stay in the region until he could broker a viable cease-fire, but obviously more violence in the region.

Definite frustration on the part of the White House, Bill, that they don't feel that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is doing enough. You also though, of course, have the Israelis saying they aren't going to deal with Mr. Arafat.

We're told that behind the scenes, U.S. officials are trying to tell the Israelis that Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinian people, and at some point the Israelis are going to have to deal with him. And also the Israelis are going to have to know that there will be repercussions and consequences to their actions, that at some point both sides are going to have to return to security talks.

So they're not looking at this as any failure or any progress made. They say the events have been very difficult and that's why Zinni's coming back. Bill.

HEMMER: Very difficult indeed. Tough going. Kelly Wallace at the White House. Kelly, thank you.




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