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U.S.-Brokered Agreement Will End Standoff in Ramallah

Aired April 28, 2002 - 17:57   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.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jeanne Meserve in Washington. Some progress today in the Middle East situation. An agreement has been brokered by the United States. Under the terms of this, five wanted Palestinians would be held by U.S. and British monitors, and Israel would pull back from Ramallah, and Yasser Arafat would be allowed freedom of movement. President Bush spoke about the agreement this afternoon. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... peace in the Middle East.

I commend the Israeli cabinet for its decision this morning to allow Chairman Arafat to move freely, to accept international monitoring of six prisoners who are at Chairman Arafat's compound, and to withdraw its forces from Ramallah. The Palestinian Authority has agreed to accept this approach.

Many parties contributed to today's positive development. The United Kingdom played an especially important role, in creating a framework for international monitoring of the six prisoners.

I have called on all parties to step up their responsibilities, and today's developments are a positive sign that they are doing so.

Much hard work remains. And this is a time for all of us to commit to fight terror and to promote peace in the Middle East.

Chairman Arafat should now seize this opportunity to act decisively, in word and in deed against terror directed at Israeli citizens.

As we work to improve security situation in the region, all of us must step up our efforts to bring humanitarian relief and economic assistance to the Palestinian people.

This morning, I called Crown Prince Abdullah, to thank him for his visit to the United States. Our discussions forged a personal bond of friendship and strengthened the 60-year relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The crown prince has offered a number of constructive ideas for making political progress between Israel and the Palestinians. We will continue to build on these ideas, as we move forward to fight terror and to promote peace in the Middle East.

I will answer a couple of questions.

QUESTION: Mr. President, on the Saudi peace plan, where are the points of objection that they have not been able to agree upon?

BUSH: Well, they came with some constructive ideas, and we listened very carefully to their ideas. And we will continue to work with them and others in the region to promote them. I -- I believe that there is a lot of common ground, starting with all parties assuming responsibilities, their responsibilities. Crown prince clearly understood there is a responsibility for the Arab world. He also believes strongly that Chairman Arafat must step up, and believes that Israel should withdraw from the territories. And that is taking place now.

Patsy.

QUESTION: Mr. President, is today's proposal that was accepted by Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat a model for lifting the siege in Bethlehem?

And are you very concerned that the Israelis have not allowed the U.N. monitors into Jenin yet?

BUSH: Well, first of all, on the Jenin issue, that is being worked out now at the U.N. And secondly, in terms of Bethlehem, I believe we're making good progress toward ending that part of the Israeli incursion. And hopefully, it will get done soon.

But the big news, of course, is Ramallah. And Chairman Arafat is now free to move around, and free to lead. And we are expecting him to do so.

QUESTION: Mr. President, on this point, what would you expect to see from Chairman Arafat in the next 24, 48, 72 hours in terms of explicit demonstrations of his leadership?

BUSH: Well, of course, one of the things that Chairman Arafat must do is condemn and -- and thwart terrorist activities. It's important he do so.

Again, I keep saying this, and it's so important for all of us involved in this process to recognize, there are clear responsibilities. And his responsibility is, just what I said, to renounce -- to help detect and stop terrorist killings. Israelis have got responsibilities.

The key responsibility for the world at large is to help end the suffering of the Palestinian people, through humanitarian and economic assistance. I am very serious about our government's involvement in a -- in humanitarian relief. My heart grieves for people who have no hope. And there a lot of people who have no hope in the Middle East.

I found there are a lot of Palestinians who wonder whether or not, you know, life is worth living. And we as a world have got to help them understand there is a positive life ahead for they and their children.

And there is -- people in Israel, of course, are deeply concerned about their security, and I can completely understand that. And therefore all of us, Arab nation, Palestinians, the United States, the EU, must all continue our collective effort to fight terror.

There are clearly people in the Middle East who would use terror as a weapon to derail any peace process. And for there to be peace, something I long for, is something I know that Israel and the Palestinian people long for -- in order for there to be peace, we must continue to rout out terror. And the message can't be more clear, and we are going to continue to hold people accountable for results.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Mr. Sharon to visit?

BUSH: As I understand, yes, we did. Listen, I'm pleased any time people want to come and visit. We've had the king of Morocco, we've had Crown Prince Abdullah, obviously. And when I talked to him on the phone this weekend, the subject didn't come up, but I understand there are discussions going on about a potential trip. I welcome a trip here to the United States. I welcome people from that part of the world to come and bare their soul and discuss their plans for peace.

The thing I always look for when I talk to the leaders is a vision for peace. It's impossible to achieve a peace unless there's a vision. And one of the things I appreciated about the Saudi initiative a while ago was that it laid out, you know, a potential peace process, a plan for peace, a way to get to peace in the region, something we all long for.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

BUSH: Mr. Arafat must perform. Mr. Arafat must do his job. I've called upon Mr. Arafat in the past. I will continue to call upon Mr. Arafat to lead.

Somebody asked me one time a while ago, they said, has he disappointed you? Has he lost your respect? I said, well, he hasn't earned my respect yet. He must earn my respect by leading. And there are a lot of people, a lot of Palestinians who are suffering, and now's the time for him to step up.

This has been a hopeful day for the region, and we must continue to press forward to peace.

I want to thank you all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: You have been looking at the first videotape of comments by President Bush this afternoon in Crawford, Texas. He was responding to news that both the Palestinians and Israelis have accepted the U.S. brokered solution to a standoff there.

Six Palestinians wanted by Israel will now be held by U.S. and British monitors. In return, Israel will pull back from Ramallah and Yasser Arafat will be allowed freedom of movement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. John King has been with the president in Crawford. John, nothing ambiguous about it, the U.S. very definitely continuing to keep the pressure on Yasser Arafat, correct?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jeanne, one sign of progress from the president's sustained personal involvement in this, but even as the president celebrating the breakthrough in Ramallah a very blunt message at the top and then again at the bottom of his statement to the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The president's message essentially this, now that Mr. Arafat has the freedom to travel, the president wants to see clear actions to crack down on terrorism. Remember Mr. Arafat has said throughout the month long siege, how can Israel ask me to crack down on terrorism? How can Israel ask me to improve security? How can Israel ask me to arrest people when I'm being held hostage in my compound?

So, the president has brokered this compromise. Mr. Arafat within a day or so, U.S. officials say, should be free to move about freely, very clear that this president will be watching closely. As he noted at the end, Mr. Arafat in his view has not earned his respect. He wants to see Mr. Arafat, in the president's words, lead. That means makes clear and repeated statements against terrorism and to crack down on people and arrest them -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: John, the president made some tantalizing hints that there's some progress on the issue of Bethlehem. What do we know about that?

KING: There have been negotiations. There have been negotiations with U.S. diplomats on the scene. There have been some conversations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, trying to work this out, as well as other international mediators.

The key to that deal has been that those Israel wants tried would either be allowed to leave the country, if they did not want to be tried, or face trial, still much like the issue here with international monitors still being negotiated, some international oversight.

The president was asked if this was a model, the U.S. and British monitors in this case. He didn't answer that directly. Certainly, we know that U.S. monitors are among the proposals on the table to try to resolve that standoff.

That is the last now remaining standoff, and remember, it is these standoffs first in Ramallah and in Bethlehem, that have blocked any discussion at all about a formal cease-fire agreement or about the president's much more ambitious, some might say overly optimistic at this point, hope of returning the parties to a political dialog.

So now that the Ramallah standoff has been resolved, you can be certain the administration will try to broker a similar agreement or at least help broker a similar agreement in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity in the days and hours ahead.

MESERVE: I love those lines, John. The president called this a hopeful day for the region. Is that the unanimous opinion of administration officials? Are they hopeful at this stage?

KING: Well, they have had nothing but frustration for months, Jeanne, so they are celebrating this moment here. Certainly, they want to celebrate the one breakthrough in progress, but the president himself making clear this is but one step forward. There is no peace process. There is no cease-fire.

You see there a picture of the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal. I believe he's in Houston, Texas addressing reporters. Let's listen in.

PRINCE SAUD AL-FAISAL, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER: There was a telephone conversation between the two leaders, in which the crown prince thanked the president of the United States for the warm hospitality extended to him.

The two leaders reaffirmed their stoic and rock solid relationship, which reflects a strategic interest of the two countries. They both value the candor and frankness which characterized the warm discussions at Crawford, Texas.

The crown prince expressed his deep appreciation for the intense efforts exerted by the president and his administration to break the impasse in the current Middle East crisis.

Both leaders expressed that this would be the first step toward a political negotiation that would lead to a comprehensive and just peace in the area and they promise to remain engaged and cooperate in the pursuit of that objective.

In the meantime, they both expressed the hope that all sides will renounce the use of violence as a means of resolving political disputes.

Before I take your questions, I would like to add that this breaking of the impasse presents us with the opportunity to move forthwith and expeditiously toward negotiating for a permanent political settlement. Time if of the essence of the matter, and we hope that all sides will see in it the wisdom and urgency of speedy movement for peace. I thank you. Now, I'll accept any questions that you may have.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about that situation in the Bethlehem Church, what's going on in that area?

AL-FAISAL: The talks are going on. We are hoping for a resolution of that situation as there was a resolution in the other situation in Ramallah. So we hope for a speedy and effective resolution of that issue.

QUESTION: How important was it, obviously the delegation is here talking with Vice President Cheney and President Bush this week, how important do you think that has been to these negotiations to end that siege in Ramallah right now?

AL-FAISAL: May I say that before, during and after the talks, we found the President fully engaged with that issue. He was fully engaged and he thought himself that resolving that impasse was a necessary first step to moving towards peace. We found him in calm calculation of what can be done, but resolute also in his effort to have it done.

QUESTION: A lot of talk today about reports coming from the New York Times and other sources of a planned fall American offensive against Iraq. I was just wondering what your thoughts are on those reports and whether or not Iraq was part of the conversations that happened earlier in the week.

AL-FAISAL: Well, I've learned to wait to make judgments on reports from any newspaper about anything. The talk of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from the administration publicly and also reported that there was no plan for that.

As for the Saudi position on this issue, we have made it clear several times the Arab League summit conference that was held in Beirut, there was a decision by the conference and by the Iraqis that Iraq would not repeat what was done on the 2nd of August, 1990, that it would complete the implementation of the United Nations resolutions, that it was talking now with the secretary general in order to have inspectors to assure the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

These are the objectives that the United States has, and if Iraq is willing to do them...

(AUDIO/VIDEO GAP)

... and for that to happen, they need to establish a place for that, and the British government is working very hard to transport the personnel necessary for that and the equipment and the machinery and the structure for that and I think that this would take around 24 hours.

QUESTION: Obviously, any first steps to end this violence that's going on over there right now is important, but what do you do next in terms of your advice to Arab states to make sure that whatever happens with the siege of Yasser Arafat, when he gets out of the compound, as well as handing over the Palestinian militants that Israel wants? That's just part of the step. What's next for you in terms of influencing true peace over there, not just this one instantaneous situation?

AL-FAISAL: We both, as I said in my previous statement, both governments, the United States and Saudi Arabia, see this as a very important first step, the breaking of impasse on this issue. It would allow for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied territories.

But as I stress also, this breaking of the impasse requires a speedy movement toward a political settlement. It is certainly the case that in the past, time was not on the side of peace. So taking advantage of this opportunity, to move forthwith and speedily for peace is of the essence, we believe, and this is what both leaders have decided to work for and they have assured each other that they will remain engaged.

They will remain urging for complete steps in this regard and they will try to move as quickly as possible toward the negotiations for a final peace settlement.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE). What do you think the president has to do for the Arabs, for the Israelis, and what do the Israelis have to do in order to make this (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

AL-FAISAL: May I return to what was said exactly, because this is a very important issue. In the meantime, they both expressed the hope that all sides will renounce the use of violence as a means of resolving political disputes. I think that statement stands for itself.

QUESTION: I just wanted to confirm what the time frame was of this conversation between the crown prince and Bush. You said they had a telephone call. When did that happen?

AL-FAISAL: This morning. Thank you, gentlemen and ladies.

MESERVE: You have been watching a press conference by the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal. He was in Houston, Texas talking about the solution to the Ramallah problem, the breaking of the impasse there. He said the opportunity to move forward expeditiously is here, the opportunity to move towards a permanent political settlement. But he said, time is of the essence.

John King is still with us in Crawford, Texas. John, was there a Saudi role in coming to this resolution in Ramallah?

KING: Yes, we are told that President Bush, after he put this proposal on the table to the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday morning, had senior administration official aides spell it out to the Saudis and ask the Saudis to put pressure on Mr. Arafat directly to tell him he must accept this proposal.

So, the Saudis key intermediaries with the United States, and from the foreign minister's remarks, even as we have a breakthrough here and even as we have a little bit of celebration after months of frustration, you saw there the distrust the Saudis have for the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

They want to go immediately from a withdrawal of Israeli troops into a discussion of a broad peace agreement, not a cease-fire, not security cooperation, not interim steps. The Saudis and other Arab leaders do not trust the prime minister of Israel. They want the United States to immediately push for a major peace initiative, go for it all if you will. That is what they hope comes out of this.

Many in the U.S. administration saying that perhaps overly optimistic, but they say the President certainly now will try to explore that to see whether he can get the Israelis to agree to such a step and Prime Minister Sharon coming to the United States the week after next for a meeting with President Bush at the White House -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: John, do we know what the administration does next?

KING: Well, the administration will get the U.S. and British monitors in, on the short-term to make sure this breakthrough, this agreement to end the Ramallah standoff actually ends the Ramallah standoff.

Then you will have the negotiations in Bethlehem. Then what they hope to do is solidify a cease-fire agreement, under which Israeli and Palestinian security forces resume their cooperation along the border areas with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to prevent future attacks, to share intelligence information.

Then the question is how do you get to a political dialog? Can you get to a political dialog at a time when yes, there are the old Clinton administration plans still on the table? There's this new Saudi initiative.

Most people think they know roughly what a final peace agreement would look like, but you have a leader of the Palestinian people and a leader of the Israeli people who simply don't trust each other, some say hate each other.

Prime Minister Sharon certainly has called Mr. Arafat a terrorist. How do you get them to sit down and talk peace when they've just been through 18 months -- 13 months, excuse me, of intifadah and the two leaders clearly don't like each other and don't trust each other?

MESERVE: John King in Crawford, Texas, thank you.

And while one sticking point in the Middle East appears to have been eliminated, another remains. That revolves around the Jenin refugee camp and what transpired there.

The departure of the U.N. fact-finding team to the camp has been delayed once again. This has prompted an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. Richard Roth is in New York with the latest -- Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jeanne, the Security Council has taken a 30-minute recess. The discussions continue. Ambassadors filed in here about an hour and 45 minutes ago, following Israel's latest rebuff to the United Nations.

At one point, Israel said it had nothing to hide and that it would indeed accept a fact-finding mission to the Jenin, West Bank refugee camp. Now the ambassadors growing more impatient here by the hour, met to discuss a possible reaction.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had none. He's refused to change any of the key core members of this team. However the sense, we're told, in the last few seconds is that they're going to give Israel 24 more hours for another cabinet meeting there on Monday -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Give Israel 24 more hours, but have any terms been changed in terms of the team or its mission?

ROTH: No change at all in terms or mandate.

MESERVE: OK, Richard Roth in New York, thanks so much.

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