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Bush and King Abdullah Give Press Conference

Aired May 8, 2002 - 18:13   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.
(BEGIN NEWS CONFERENCE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People of the region, the person who always emphasizes the humanitarian aspects of people of this country. He cares deeply about peace. A series of ongoing discussions I'm having with leaders from the Middle East as to how we can really seize the moment and bring peace to the region.

Your Majesty, welcome back to the Oval Office. I'm thrilled to have you here.

KING ABDULLAH II, KING OF JORDAN: Thank you, Mr. President. It's always a delight to see you again and to be here at this difficult time. And I hope that with our discussions today, we can somehow try and articulate a way to bring Palestinians and Israelis to peace and security. And I look forward to this discussion with you this evening.

BUSH: The Majesty has agreed to take a couple of questions as have I. We'll start with Terry.

QUESTION: Mr. President, seize the moment (UNINTELLIGIBLE) difficult at the moment. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Do you believe Prime Minister Sharon should (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BUSH: Well, first, I want to remind everybody, it seems like every week is a difficult week in the Middle East. And it's been difficult months in the Middle East, and it's been difficult years in the Middle East. There's been a lot of hard feelings and hatreds, and our jobs are to convince people first and foremost that they've got to believe in peace. And Israeli is a nation that is a sovereign nation. But whatever response Israel decides to take, my hope, of course, is that the prime minister keeps his vision of peace in mind. We've got to want peace in order to achieve peace, and that's what the United States is working toward.

QUESTION: Your Majesty, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ABDULLAH: Well, we're actually here at the moment to see if we can identify some logical steps over the next few weeks to articulate a vision that brings the Israelis and Palestinians out of the impasse that we're facing at the moment. And we'll discuss the views this evening and maybe see if we can find a roadmap to have America's support to bring Israelis and Palestinians the peace that they deserve.

BUSH: Jim.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) any role at all for Arafat in any kind of (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BUSH: Well, first of all, I was pleased to read the transcripts of his call against terror in Arabic. I didn't read the transcripts. I read the English translation. But I was most pleased that he did that. I thought that was an incredibly positive sign. As you know, I've been one who is disappointed in the past, and therefore, I hope that his actions now match his words.

It's very important for us, and I'm going to explain this to his majesty why I think all of us involved must work hard to put the infrastructure in place or the structures in place for a Palestinian authority that respects rule of law that has its own constitution, that is able to fight corruption, that's able to spend money properly when it gets it from a foreign source so that there is hope, there is hope for the Palestinian people. One of the things I'm deeply concerned about -- and I know his majesty is as well -- is that there's a lot of people -- Palestinians who don't believe there's any hope, there's no future. And we've got to make sure they have a better future by putting an economic plan in place. But that can't happen unless there is a Palestinian authority that's backed by a true government, I mean, a true sense of the ability to run itself. And that in turn will help Israel be more comfortable with their neighbor. And so we're going to talk about the way forward. And the way forward is to -- and step one is to make sure there's a unified Palestinian security force, a force that is responsible, a force that reports, you know, a certain authority figure, a force that we can hold accountable, a force that's not fractured and fights each other. And to that end, as you know, the other day, I announced that George Tenet is going to go to the region to help this reform.

QUESTION: Your Majesty, you are working (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ABDULLAH: Well, one of the things that we will discuss with the president this evening is that after this meeting, our foreign minister goes to Cairo to be there at a summit that is going to be convened by President Mubarak and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Abdullah with a group of our countries that will articulate the vision of Beirut; in other words, the olive branch towards Israel in practical terms. And at the same time, having to deal with the...

(END OF COVERAGE)

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: King Abdullah of Jordan meeting with the president. That meeting just concluding in the White House just moments ago. Let's go to White House correspondent John King.

John, as you indicated earlier, this does sound very much like a green light from the president in terms of the Israeli response to the suicide bombing yesterday. And it is quite a different approach from President Bush's enunciations following previous attacks. Why the shift? JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, because this president is waging a war on terrorism himself and says the United States has the right to defend itself against attacks. So he would be perceived as a hypocrite if he were to tell the Israeli leader he could not respond to an attack. They know that full well here at the White House. You might say there that that was almost a yellow light.

Earlier in the day, the administration said it would give Prime Minister Sharon no advice. The president there saying Israel is a sovereign nation. It will decide what to do. But he did urge the prime minister to keep in mind, quote, "his vision of peace" when he decides how to respond. The implicit reminder there is: Don't do anything that would put peace off the map completely. Some might argue though there's not much signs of progress anyway. And from the president just there, Lou, very rare words of praise for Yasser Arafat.

He did give a speech in Arabic today telling the Palestinian people suicide bombings were not the path to peace, not the right path for the Palestinian people. But even as he praised Arafat, again, the president saying what matters most is actions, not words.

A reflection in just those few moments of remarks, a very complicated situation facing the president and King Abdullah, the very difficult choices still just ahead.

DOBBS: And John, as you know, Hamas has taken responsibility for the suicide bombing, not the Palestinian authority nor any of the adjunct groups from that Palestinian authority. Yet Ariel Sharon is holding, and the Israeli government is holding Arafat and the Palestinian authority responsible. How is the White House navigating those complex elements of this conflict?

KING: Well, again, without directly blaming Arafat, what the president said was his top priority now implicitly suggests that Arafat is -- at least has something to do with it or perhaps could have stopped it. The United States' priority right now with the CIA director on his way to the region is to improve Palestinian security forces. The White House argument is to not go as far as the prime minister say Arafat is directly responsible, but it will say Arafat is the man who is supposed to run the Palestinian authority. That authority is supposed to have coordinated effect of security forces within the Palestinian territories whether Hamas did this or anyone else.

The White House argument is it should not be able to happen if Yasser Arafat has control from a security perspective and a political perspective over the Palestinian territories. That is the blunt message to Mr. Arafat even if the White House does not hold him directly accountable for this latest attack.

DOBBS: John, thank you very much. John King, our senior White House correspondent.

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