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Rep. Gephardt Responds to Glimmers of Peace in Middle East

Aired May 1, 2002 - 08:23   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.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And we are back now with some breaking news out of Ramallah, where Yasser Arafat is currently being held in his compound. A deal has been struck which it is believed will lead to his release some time within the next two hours in exchange for the transfer of six Palestinians that are inside the compound.

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, who has met this morning with Yasser Arafat and British and American envoys, say the meeting now is going to lead to further discussions on what exactly security wise will happen. It is believed that CIA agents will play a role in protecting the six Palestinians as they're being transferred.

Joining us now from the White House lawn is Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, who has just finished a breakfast meeting with the president and congressional leaders.

Good morning, Representative Gephardt.

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), MAJORITY LEADER: Good morning.

ZAHN: Your reaction to this breaking news?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think it's hopeful. We all want there to be a way to get back to the peace table. That ultimately is the answer to these problems. There's been tremendous bloodshed and violence. The Israelis have faced suicide bombings, which have thankfully now stopped. But they've acted in their own self-defense. Obviously there's been violence and bloodshed on the other side, as well.

We've got to try to lead toward peace and I think that's what the administration is trying to do with both sides.

ZAHN: There was a front page story in the "New York Times" that suggests that when the Saudis came to town last week they had very little faith in President Bush's ability to lead in the region but after these personal meetings between the crown prince and the president, they feel otherwise. And apparently they've come up with this joint track where President Bush will oversee Ariel Sharon and continue to press him to remove the troops from the occupied territories. And meanwhile the Saudis will oversee Yasser Arafat.

Do you think this is going to work and do you trust the Saudi end of this deal? GEPHARDT: Well, we need the help of the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the other big countries in the region that are committed to peace and are committed to bringing this about. You've got to remember that about 18 months ago Yasser Arafat had on the table a peace deal that gave him about 95, 97 percent of the land that he wanted. He turned it down. And I don't think there was the leadership from the other Arab nations that should have been there at the time.

If we can get it now, maybe we can get back to the peace table and get back to a settlement of two states living side by side in peace, longstanding peace. That's what we need.

ZAHN: Is it your expectation if and when there's a settlement then it's on to Iraq for the U.S.?

GEPHARDT: Well, that's an issue that the president has to decide. Obviously Saddam Hussein is still a danger. He is still probably preparing weapons of mass destruction. It does not give any of us confidence that he has kicked out the U.N. inspectors, now for a long time, and that there's no real movement to get the inspectors back in there.

So I think the president will have to make those decisions at the right time. I think he'll have strong support in the Congress at that time if he makes those decisions.

ZAHN: Representative Gephardt, as always, good to see you. Thanks for taking some time with us as you left that breakfast meeting with the president. Good to see you again.

GEPHARDT: Thanks so much.

ZAHN: And once again, just confirming the fact that CNN now knows that a deal has been struck that will allow for Yasser Arafat to leave his Ramallah compound as early as two hours from now in exchange for the release of six prisoners. What is being worked out right now are the security details that will allow for that transfer. Apparently the CIA will be playing some role in making sure those six Palestinians remain safe during that transfer.

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