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Powell Press Conference in Cairo; 13 Israeli Soldiers Killed

Aired April 9, 2002 - 10:17   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.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're watching the monitors to see what is happening in Cairo, Egypt, and it looks like the gentlemen are just starting to walk into the room. Secretary of State Colin Powell, he is joined by the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Maher -- let's go ahead and listen in.

AHMED MAHER, EGYPTIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Good afternoon

It's always a pleasure to receive Secretary Powell in Egypt. We always have very open, profound and useful and productive discussions. This is no exception.

The president has happy to receive Secretary Powell. They had a very thorough exchange of view and review of the serious situation in Palestine as the result of the invasion of Israel of the territories of Palestine, and they discussed the ways and means to ensure that the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Palestinian territories, the establishment of a cease-fire, the starting of implementation of the Tenet paper and the Mitchell report recommendations, which should open the way towards a serious political negotiation on the basis of all the principles that are agreed upon.

We already have many documents to work on for the political negotiations. We have Security Council resolutions from 242 to the latest resolutions. We have the Arab peace initiative agreed unanimously in the Beirut summit. We have the speech by President Bush in the General Assembly. We have the speech of the secretary in Louisville. So we have elements that allow us to work for a political solution, a just and lasting and comprehensive political solution.

We have agreed that it is important for all the parties to cooperate in this regard, and we impressed upon the secretary the importance of his meetings next week in Israel and Palestine. We believe that the only way to ensure security is to link the security talks with the political talks, meaning that they should go together because security cannot be achieved through force -- through the use of force -- but through the creation of an environment that is helpful to create confidence between the parties.

We had the opportunity to reaffirm Egypt's position concerning the refusal of any challenge to the leadership -- to the legitimate leadership of President Arafat, who is the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people. This is the address where all negotiations should be conducted. And I think that we have agreed that working together with all the countries that are willing to cooperate with us in building a true peace will finally make the cause of peace prevail so that the peoples of the Middle East can live together in peace and security and enjoy the benefits of a peaceful era.

Mr. Secretary, it's a pleasure to have been able to meet with you and to talk with you. Talking to you is always very instructive and very helpful. And I wish you luck and success in the rest of your mission in our part of the world.

POWELL: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. And thank you for the warm welcome that you extended to me and my delegation, once again.

And I also appreciated the opportunity to share views with President Mubarak, an old friend. And we have always had the habit of speaking candidly and directly to one another.

I come here at a difficult time, a time when we see violence in the Middle East. We see violence where young men, young women, children are dying on both sides.

I come with a commitment on the part of President Bush and the American people and the international community to try to do everything in our power to bring this violence to an end, so we can, as my colleague said, move to a political track.

All of us know that we must get to a political track. We must get to political discussions, which will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state called Palestine, living side-by-side in peace with Israel. These two peoples must live together in peace for there to be a future for their children and their children's children.

President Bush gave a very important speech last Thursday, where he once again communicated his vision. He made the case that terrorism must not be allowed to work. He made the case that it is important for both sides to recognize they have obligations, they have responsibilities, and both will have to make hard choices in the presence of violence, in the presence of danger, and the presence of instability and uncertainty.

And in his speech, he asked for the Israeli government to end its incursions, and to do it as soon as possible. He reiterated that call last Saturday and asked that it be done now.

I'm pleased that in the last 24 hours the Israeli government has started to pull back from some of the cities that it had gone into. Although there are still a lot of movements taking place, and we have seen some rather fierce fighting in Jenin, and the situation is unsettled in a few of the other areas as you all know. Nevertheless, the president hopes that Prime Minister Sharon will end this operation quickly and start to remove the forces now. And we hope that yesterday's beginning steps were the beginning of the end.

At the same time, we know it is difficult to disengage that quickly when people are locked in contact. It was the way we see it in Jenin this morning, but that's even more reason why time is of the essence, and we must expedite the end of this operation and the withdrawal.

Prime Minister Sharon has reaffirmed to me, yet again this morning in my conversation with him, his commitment to bring this to an end as quick as he can and his commitment to moving forward with not only security discussions, but with a political process that will find a way forward.

My trip in the Middle East this week is for the purpose of consulting with our friends in the region. President Bush wanted me to spend time in the region talking to our friends the Egyptians, the Moroccans.

We also had good conversations last evening with the Saudis, and I will go on to meet with European colleagues, Russian colleagues, and Secretary General Annan tomorrow in Madrid. And then back to meet with King Abdullah of Jordan, and then into Jerusalem, where I'm looking forward to conversations with the prime minister. And I intend to meet with Chairman Arafat.

These are difficult times, but I think that if we all to continue to have a common vision of the future, of where we want to see this all end and if we recognize that we have to link security and a political process together so people can see not just a cease-fire as important as that is. But something beyond a cease-fire, a political settlement that will move us in the right direction to the creation of a Palestinian state, a state that will have borders that everyone will recognize, borders that will come into being as a result of negotiations that lay ahead, settling all of the outstanding issues in due course.

And with that vision of a state, hopefully -- hopefully -- the Palestinian people will realize it's in their interests now to do everything they can to control their passions, to control the violence, to bring it down so that we can get the political process moving. We almost had one two weeks ago, when we had the successful Arab Summit. With Egypt's contribution to the summit, we came out with a powerful declaration. The U.N. has issued powerful resolutions.

The president of the United States has spoken his vision. Other world leaders have, but that dream was deferred at that time by violent terrorist action, the kind of action that you must call on all sides to do everything in the power of all the players and parties to bring to an end so that we get into a cease-fire, and we begin the discussions toward peace and a new state.

QUESTION: There is public perception in the Arab world that you kept Jerusalem until last, giving Sharon ample time to wipe out Palestinians. So what's your interpretation, sir?

POWELL: My answer is very direct. President Bush made his statement last Thursday, calling for the Israeli authorities to stop. And then he reinforced that on Saturday, saying, "Now." He did it again yesterday, saying, "Now."

I have conveyed that same message to Prime Minister Sharon in a number of phone calls. So, my presence in Jerusalem is not necessary for them to understand that message. And I can assure that what I am doing this week and in these other meetings is putting together a consensus among all the nations that have an interest in this, all the members of the international community, so that I can go to Jerusalem with a powerful message both for Prime Minister Sharon and a message also Chairman Arafat.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) did you ask anything specifically of President Mubarak? And the suicide bombers seem to have faded (ph) away. Does that say something about Chairman Arafat giving his message? Does it say something about Sharon's operation (OFF-MIKE)

POWELL: Well, first of all with respect to President Mubarak, we had a good discussion. And he offered his full support to our mission.

And he said he would be as helpful as he could in talking to Palestinian leaders, conveying to Chairman Arafat and his assistants, and as you may have noted in the reporting this morning, a number of Chairman Arafat's closest associates will be joining him tomorrow prior to my arrival in the region for conversations. And hopefully, that will empower them to speak with General Zinni and be ready to talk with me.

With respect to the absence of suicide bombers, I can't answer it directly, but certainly -- certainly the overwhelming presence of the Israeli defense force in the area is having a deterrent effect. The intentions on the part of those who launch such bombers, I can't divine.

The one thing I do know is that this operation will come to an end, whether it comes to an end right away, as President Bush has requested, or not, I do know that when it is all over, it does not mean the end of suicide bombers. It does not mean the end of those who would use terrorism or would use violent means as a way of destroying the promise for peace.

Our concern, and the reason we are acting so aggressively now with respect to ending the incursion, is we believe that the affect of the incursion throughout the Arab world and throughout the rest of the world is very negative with respect to Israel's long-term interest and in terms of Israel's relations with its neighbors and in terms of the United States' long-term interest in the regions and, frankly, the world's interest in the region.

QUESTION: Sir, does the United States still recognizes President Arafat as the sole representative of the Palestinian Authority? Or do you share the thoughts of Mr. Sharon of substituting him by another leadership?

POWELL: The United States recognizes that the Palestinian people view Chairman Arafat as their leader. I have said this repeatedly. It is up to the Palestinian people to decide who their leader will be. Whether elected or otherwise, he has been given that mantle of leadership by the Palestinian people, and I recognize that as such.

And as a leader of the Palestinian people, he has many obligations, and I hope to have the opportunity to talk to he and his associates later this week with respect to what we would like to see them do in order to bring this current situation to an end and to get it back into conversations and discussions that will lead to security, a cease-fire and immedately into political discussions.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Do you think that Yasser Arafat, Mr. Secretary, has done enough to (OFF-MIKE) what many of the Arab leaders are saying is that the Israeli withdrawal has to come first.

POWELL: I think this is the time for all of us to recognize that this kind of activity, suicide bombing, killing of people and the response that comes in return, all of this has to be brought to an end. And it is not helpful to try and sequence it, because we'll never get it sequenced properly.

And so, I would ask all parties now to speak out against this kind of activity. I would ask all leaders of Arab nations, all Palestinian leaders to say to their people, and say to people throughout the world, "This is the time to stop this kind of activity, because there is a process waiting for us that will get us what we want, which is a state, which is peace, living side by side with Israel."

To the extent that there are people who do not want peace, who do not want Israel to exist, they have to be told that that is wrong. They have to be fought, that sentiment has to be fought.

Israel must be allowed to have peace. The Palestinian people must be allowed to have peace in their own state called Palestine. It is a vision that President Bush has spoken to directly.

He's the first American president to stand before the United Nations, as he did last fall, and in front of the international community, speak of this vision, and the first United States president in such a forum to say that we must have peace that leads to the creation of a Palestinian state, called Palestine, living side by side with Israel.

That must be the dream and the vision of all of us, and we must all dedicate ourselves to that end -- all leaders -- and that means getting the violence down now, or else future generations will never forgive us.

QUESTION: Secretary Powell said about the sequence and the Arab leaders have to (OFF-MIKE).

MAHER: Yes. I first want to say that Egypt has always been against violence and against civilian victims on both sides. What we see these days perpetrated by Israel in the Palestinian territories is extreme violence. And we have seen how many civilians have been killed, how many civilians have been maimed, how many houses have been destroyed and how people have not been allowed to get medical help that they needed, and bodies are not being allowed to be buried.

This is a sort of violence that has to stop. We believe that it is important for the Israelis to stop, as the secretary said, their incursion or invasion, as I would call it, withdraw from the territories.

And I think there should be some sort of observer corps to see that what happened is not repeated. This is very important. And I think this is a point that we have made to the secretary, and I think the secretary agrees with the necessity to have observers on the ground.

POWELL: Just to add additional comments to what the minister said; once we get into a cease-fire, based on the Tenet proposal, which is instantly linked to the Mitchell process, which is instantly linked to political discussions, the United States has previously said -- President Bush said at the G-8 summit meeting last year that the United States is prepared to put observers -- U.S. observers, monitors -- on the ground that would help with the confidence-building, the restoring of trust between the two sides, get us back to where we were a few years ago. And we are prepared to do that, and we discussed this earlier with the president.

(CROSSTALK)

KAGAN: We're watching the end of what was a very spirited news conference taking place in Cairo, Egypt with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Maher.

Among some of the points that the secretary of state made that he really believes that -- he's looking for a cease fire in the Middle East, and he is hoping to get back on a political track. He does plan to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and he also does have plans to meet with Yasser Arafat. He did make a token of appreciation towards the Israelis, saying that he is pleased that he has seen some movement in the last 24 hours of the Israelis withdrawing from some areas, although he did note there is a lot of work yet to be done on that topic.

Let's go ahead and bring in James Rubin, former secretary of -- assistant secretary of state. Jamie, I almost gave you a promotion there. Joining us from London, I believe. Good morning -- good afternoon to you.

JAMES RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Good afternoon to you.

KAGAN: The first question to the secretary of state was a challenge that he has been met from day one, practically, on this trip, and that is, what the heck are you doing here, and why aren't you in Jerusalem? It is an Arab challenge, and it seems to kind of undermine what the secretary of state is trying to do and build support before going to Jerusalem.

RUBIN: Well, I think the secretary of state and the president have the right strategy, and that is that they know that if he just lands in Jerusalem today or yesterday without doing some of the necessary spade work, that he's not going to be very successful.

And I think what was unfortunately absent from the comments during that whole press conference was the call by President Bush on the Arab leaders to join together in opposing, in whatever language is appropriate, the concept of suicide bombings. And instead, the Egyptian foreign minister repeated the usual line, which is they oppose the deaths of civilians on both sides.

And so, they are equating the Israeli attack on the West Bank towns, which kills civilians by -- not directly, but by incidence, and the direct murder of civilians through suicide bombings. The idea was, he would go to the Arab world and get condemnations and support for anti-terrorist activities by the Palestinian Authority, and so far, at least publicly, he doesn't have that. But that was the logic of going there first.

KAGAN: Jamie, this is round two of President Bush, at least not seeing his agenda played out as he would like it to, I am thinking back to Vice President Cheney's trip from a few weeks ago. He was going to the Middle East, trying to gather support to go against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and instead, that turned into one giant trip all focused on the Palestinians and Israelis.

Yet again, you have a member of the Bush administration going with one agenda, but the Arab world saying no, that's not what we want to talk about, we are going to talk about something else.

RUBIN: Well, I think that's right. So far, the president's very blunt calls on the Palestinians to condemn terrorism, the Arab countries to condemn terrorism, and the Israelis to pull out have not really been respected. There have been some minor movements on the ground by the Israeli military, but in general the operation seems to be going ahead full force, and the Arabs are not responding to his call.

I think it's part of the issue that has caused Secretary Powell to go to the region, is that President Bush and the secretary realize that America's interests were being severely harmed in the Arab world by the Israeli offensive, and the effects of those interests being harmed are played out in the refusal of Arab countries to play the American agenda the way the American secretary of state wants it played.

KAGAN: Interesting comment coming publicly from the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Maher, where he was saying they want an observer corps on the ground, basically I think they are asking for U.S. peace keepers to be on the ground, but that would be a long way from going over well in this country.

RUBIN: Yes. I don't think there's actually that much new in this proposal. It's been around for several weeks, if not months by now. And what it is is, it's not peacekeepers, it's not armed American officers. What it is is a combination of diplomats -- American diplomats, and American officers of the CIA who can verify what's going on so they can be honest brokers in terms of whether the cease fire is being respected or not, and whether the various checkpoints are being moved, and whether the tanks have been moved to different areas.

So they're more like verifiers and they're diplomatic, they are presumably unarmed, it is not really peacekeepers, but the Palestinians and the Arab world would like this force to be described in as dramatic a way as possible, because they would like ideally to have U.N. peacekeepers or some other peacekeepers on the ground, but that's not on the agenda.

KAGAN: Want to look at the significance of where today's event took place in Cairo, Egypt. Egypt being a leading country in the peace-making process in the Middle East, and yet a country that significantly cut off some ties with Israel last week.

RUBIN: Well, they did. They basically said they were going to halt all diplomatic activity if it wasn't related to the Palestinian cause. The truth is, the Israeli-Egyptian diplomatic activity has been very limited for a very long time, and given the scope of Israel's military operation in the West Bank, some might have predicted an even more dramatic response of cutting off relations or temporary suspension of relations. So I think this was a rather minor diplomatic move in practical terms, although it did send a signal of how precarious Israel's position is.

And let's remember that Ariel Sharon has basically said no to the president's call for an early withdrawal, and he has isolated Israel entirely now by rejecting Israel's only real friend, the United States' call for a withdrawal, and Israel's isolation increases, and Arafat's support around the world grows with every day of this siege of his office in Ramallah.

KAGAN: I want to share with you, Jamie, and our viewers at home some breaking news that we are getting from the Associated Press, word that an Israeli military source confirming that 13 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the attack in Jenin. The source says it happened when they entered a booby-trapped building during an assault on Palestinian militants. This certainly is not going to help calm things between these two sides.

Both sides, of course, the Israelis are going to be upset about the 13 soldiers killed. I think it's the bloodiest, the deadliest of all the attacks for the Israelis since this started 18 months ago, but also the Palestinians having the belief that the Israelis shouldn't have been in Jenin in the first place.

RUBIN: Yes. When Israeli soldiers go in to these highly congested areas filled with the source of most of the Palestinian anger, refugee camps, and others like in Jenin, they are at grave risk, and one of the reasons they have been taking these rather outrageous steps of not letting ambulances in and taking people's clothes off and keeping people isolated for days on end, is because they're worried about things like booby traps, and they know the Palestinians will use any tactic they can to kill Israeli soldiers, and if this report is correct, they have obviously killed the largest number of Israeli soldiers in one attack in a long, long time. Of course, Palestinian terrorists have killed many more civilians in places like Tel Aviv and Haifa and Jerusalem through terrorist suicide bombers.

KAGAN: Very good. Jamie Rubin, thanks for joining us with your insight from London, appreciate it. We'll give our thanks to you. Let you go once again.

Repeat our breaking news, we're getting word from the Associated Press, also from various media in Israel that the military sources there are confirming that 13 Israeli soldiers were killed today in a West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, they were going house to house, and apparently came across a booby-trapped building, and in that explosion, the assault on 13 soldiers, 13 Israeli soldiers killed in Jenin.

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