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No Dramatic Breakthroughs Between Arafat and Powell

Aired April 14, 2002 - 09:03   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.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's just after 4 o'clock here in Jerusalem, 4 o'clock in the afternoon, just after 9 a.m. on the East Coast. The three-hour meeting, as you pointed out, between Yasser Arafat and Colin Powell. For those of our viewers just tuning in, I want to bring in our Andrea Koppel, our State Department correspondent. She's traveling with the Secretary of State -- she was in Ramallah at that Palestinian authority headquarters building during the course of that three-hour meeting. Andrea, update us on the outcome of the meeting.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it sounds as if -- I mean, in terms of sort of filling in some of the blanks here -- the meeting went fairly well. As one U.S. official put it to us, there was no dramatic breakthrough, but also there were no dramatic blow- ups. They did -- the atmosphere was good -- it sounds as if, on the face of it, what the U.S. Secretary of State did, was try to get Yasser Arafat to come out in a public statement and flesh out a little bit more that written statement that came out yesterday in his name, condemning all terrorism against, and all violence against, civilians -- Palestinian and Israeli civilians.

He didn't get that in this meeting today, but there is going to be a follow-on meeting, Secretary Powell said, tomorrow, on Monday, with some of Secretary Powell's aides, and some of Yasser Arafat's aides, to try to flesh this out -- to try to get more of a commitment by Chairman Arafat to do that.

What's holding this up, and what's complicating matters, Wolf, as you know, is that the Palestinians have been under siege now for more than two weeks, and they want the Israelis to complete the withdrawal from West Bank towns and cities before they make any move. And it's not that this is an impossible puzzle to solve, but its certainly complicated, and its difficult, and its tough sloughing. And so later this evening, Secretary Powell is going to be meeting -- in fact, very shortly -- with the President of Israel. This is more of a courtesy call. And then a little bit later, he will have his second meeting with Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.

Presumably, in that meeting, we can expect Secretary Powell to try to press the Israeli Prime Minister, again, to commit to a time line for a rapid withdrawal. In the meeting, we were told by a senior State Department official -- in the meeting that happened this morning, with Yasser Arafat -- Mr. Arafat spoke for about an hour without interruption and the primary focus of his concerns that he raised with Secretary Powell were about the conditions in Jenin, and about the ongoing siege in Bethlehem of the Church of the Nativity. And Arafat also told Secretary Powell that the siege of the West Bank must end completely.

He didn't, apparently, go into any complaints about his personal situation -- he has been holed up in his Ramallah headquarters since the incursions began. But that really was his main talking points. And so Secretary Powell, now, presumably will be going back to the Israeli Prime Minister and say, look, I think we'll be able to get that statement from Chairman Arafat that you and the Israelis have been demanding, but we need more from the Israelis. We need you to come forward with this detailed time line as to when you're going to withdraw.

That's -- it's, again -- a very difficult challenge for Secretary Powell, and it's certainly not guaranteed that he is going to get that this evening, Wolf. But it sounds -- the U.S. side, and the Palestinian side -- sounded a slightly optimistic note, following this meeting today with Chairman Arafat -- they seemed to be signaling that they think that progress could be made in the not-too-distant future but it's obviously going to take compromise from both sides, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Andrea, we spoke earlier -- I spoke within the past hour or so -- with Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State, the number two man at the State Department, who had been briefed, directly, by Secretary Powell. He refused to say that there would certainly be -- there would definitely be -- a second round of talks between Powell and Arafat on Tuesday, although Saeb Erakat, the Chief Palestinian negotiator did seem to suggest that tomorrow's staff level meeting between the U.S. and the Palestinian side possibly would be followed up with a second meeting between Powell and Arafat. What are you hearing differently, if anything?

KOPPEL: I'm not hearing any thing differently at this point. I think, really, it's too early to make any kind of predictions. The U.S. side believes, as to whether or not there will be another meeting with Yasser Arafat, and I think that's because they haven't had their second meeting yet with the Israeli Prime Minister, and they need to have tomorrow's meeting with the two negotiating parties with their two negotiating teams, the Americans and the Palestinian negotiators. And so, they need to get through those two meetings before they can say whether or not it would make sense to have a second meeting with Chairman Arafat.

This is -- you know, things are a little too much up in the air. But, you know, there could also be, Wolf, I mean, we're hearing that at some point in the not-too-distant future there is the distinct possibility that Secretary Powell could be making a couple of stops elsewhere in the region. So, I think that there are a number of loose ends here, and they're trying not to make any commitments before they have a better idea as to how much progress would be made in a second meeting with Chairman Arafat.

But again, I think that it wouldn't be going too far out on a limb to say that they feel as if they've made -- that there is the potential here -- for progress. And Secretary Powell will be going into this meeting with Ariel Sharon this evening, with some more ammunition now having had an opportunity to sit down for three hours with Yasser Arafat and really kind of go through what's happened over the last several weeks and talk about some U.S. ideas as to how they can break this impasse.

BLITZER: Andrea Koppel, thank you very much for your report. We'll be getting back to you, of course, as our coverage continues.

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