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Should Colin Powell Meet With Yasser Arafat?

Aired April 12, 2002 - 14:07   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.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to continue our discussion now. We'll talk about U.S. strategy and Colin Powell's strategy, essentially. Geoffrey Kemp is our guest now. He's with the Nixon Center, a former adviser to President Ronald Reagan, during the first term, back in the early '80s.

And we say welcome to you, sir. Good afternoon to you back in Washington. Give us a sense on the back and forth right now that we're hearing about this meeting tomorrow. Should Colin Powell go to Ramallah and sit down with the Palestinian leader, or can he afford not to, sir?

GEOFFREY KEMP, FMR. WHITE HOUSE ASST.: Well, distasteful as it is, I think the meeting will probably go ahead. It may be slipped a couple of hours. But if Powell does not meet with Arafat, it will be a huge disappointment in the Arab world. The mission will be regarded as a failure. And it will look as though the most powerful country in the world is walking away in the face of a bomb.

And, you know, that is something that we really shouldn't be doing. We have got to face up to the fact that this conflict has got to be resolved. And we are right in the middle of it now.

HEMMER: Indeed we are, as a country, meaning the United States. Tell us this. Talking with the Palestinian leader a short time ago, he said what Colin Powell has to do is offer the Palestinians some hope -- hope for the end of military incursions, hope for the end of the occupation. Can Colin Powell provide that, and how does he do it?

KEMP: Well, I think he can provide it. Because if Arafat does not listen to Powell, if Arafat snubs Powell and humiliates him, then it really is all over, and we'll have to start thinking about a new Palestinian leadership. So I would imagine Arafat knows that this is pretty much his last chance. And therefore he'll listen very eagerly to what Powell has to say.

And anything that starts the political process will be considered by Arafat to be a success. Indeed, Powell's meeting with Arafat is considered a success by the Palestinians. And for that reason, is -- Bush is under a lot of criticism here at home for allowing this to go forward.

HEMMER: And, considering that fact, that the incursions have gone forward, do you think the White House would much rather rewind the tape of time two weeks, prevent the incursions. And at that point, instead of having troops and tanks surrounding Yasser Arafat, which is going to make for a very interesting picture tomorrow, if indeed that meeting takes place, would they have rather stopped Ariel Sharon's movement and tried to hold on to some semblance of peace at that time two weeks ago?

KEMP: I don't think that was possible. I think the Israeli public had to be -- there had to be a response to the Netanya bombing. Sharon was reflecting, I think, the mood in Israel at the time. I think now there are questions about where is this going to lead. This does not, obviously, lead to the end of terrorism.

Look, here's the dilemma the president faces. He made some very black and white statements about terrorism after 9-11. "You're either with us or against us." He's now discovering that the world is a very murky place, and that, unfortunately, presidents and secretaries of state, for hundreds of years, have had to deal with unsavory characters, like Yasser Arafat. He's just one of many leaders who have conducted terrorism, who we do business with.

HEMMER: Do you believe the White House right now has accepted the fact that they might be in this thing for the long haul right now?

KEMP: Well, probably, reluctantly they have. After all, they put it off for long enough. There's nobody else to take our place. The Arabs can't do it. Arafat can't do it. Sharon can't do it. The Europeans are certainly out of the picture. The U.N. is out of the picture. It's only the United States. And that means the president of the United States, not General Zinni. It means Colin Powell, with the president's blessing and support, day in, day out.

HEMMER: We've been told in the region here, the U.S. is the only game in town. We're about to find out just how much game the U.S. has right now in this current conflict. Geoffrey, thank you, sir. Geoffrey Kemp, live from Washington, now working with the Nixon Center. Much appreciate your thoughts this afternoon here with us -- this evening, here in Jerusalem.

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