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Press Conference: Bush to Send Zinni Back to Mid East

Aired March 7, 2002 - 16:15   ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm deeply concerned about the tragic loss of life and escalating violence in the Middle East. This is a matter of great interest to the United States and all who want peace in the region and in the world.

There is a road map to peace. The Tenet security work plan will bring parties together to reduce the violence, improve the security situation and return to the path of peace.

The Tenet work plan is the first step toward implementing the Mitchell committee report in full and resuming a political process between the sides.

I'm committed to working with our partners in the region and around the world in the pursuit of this goal.

The United States has a vision of a Middle East in which all people, Arabs and Israelis, can live as neighbors in full peace and security.

Recent ideas put forth by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia have created an opening for discussing this broader peace and for the normalization of relations between Arab states and Israel. The United States is committed to exploring this opening.

Because of our commitment to peace, I'm sending General Tony Zinni back to the region next week to work with Israel and the Palestinians to begin implementing the Tenet work plan so that the parties can renew their efforts for a broader peace. The United States will do all it can to help the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority restore hope to their people and to the region.

I, once again, call upon Chairman Arafat to make maximum effort to end terrorism against Israel, which undermines the prospects for peace. And as we move forward, I'm counting on all parties in the region, Prime Minister Sharon included, to do everything they can to make these efforts a success.

The violence and tragic loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives must end. Families on both sides of the conflict share this goal; so does my country. Peace and stability will be an important topic of the vice president's upcoming trip to the region. I've asked him to join me today.

Mr. Vice President?


I'm looking forward to leaving Sunday on a 10-day, 12-country swing through the region. Obviously, one of the subjects I'll be discussing with my hosts are the efforts that General Zinni will undertake and the approach to the Tenet and the Mitchell plans that the president's outlined here today, as well as Crown Prince Abdullah's initiatives.

The peace process is not the only thing on my agenda. The trip's been planned for some time, and there are a number of other issues that we'll talk about, including the continuing war on terrorism.

I plan to visit troops and spend time talking about bilateral issues as well with host countries. And I'll have the opportunities to brief the traveling press corps tomorrow in greater detail.

BUSH: Mr. Secretary?

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President.

I'm very pleased that General Zinni has again shown his willingness to serve his nation and to go once again to the Middle East to try to get the Tenet work plan started. It is a work plan that will allow both sides to get into security consultations so we can get the violence under control, down to zero, start to restore confidence between the two sides, end the killing, and then move to a political settlement that is an outcome of the Mitchell process. I hope both sides will respond to General Zinni when he arrives in the region, and we'll be in close consultation with both sides as well as all of our friends in the region in the immediate days ahead.

Thank you very much.

BUSH: Ask a few questions.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you've said all along that the two sides need to break the cycle of violence. There's been a lot of false hopes. The violence continues even today. What assurances do you have, if any, that the two sides are now willing to take that step and break the cycle?

BUSH: Well, we've had a lot of consultations over the last week and week and a half. We've been on the phone a lot, and we believe now is the time for General Zinni to move back into the region. There are no assurances, but that is not going to prevent our government from trying; trying to get the parties to agree to Tenet, trying to reduce the cycle of violence. Obviously, there's a reason why, and that is because of as a result of consultations, we believe there's a possibility we can have an impact. And so the combination of General Zinni's trip and the vice president's trip may have a positive impact. We'll see.

QUESTION: Mr. President, your secretary of state had some rather stern words for Israel yesterday. Do you believe that Ariel Sharon engaging in his current policies has become an obstacle to peace?

BUSH: Well, I've read the secretary's comments, and it sounds like he had pretty tough words for all parties. He's concerned about the level of violence like I am.

He made it clear that Chairman Arafat needs to do a better job of reducing violence, of using his leadership role to reduce violence. He's also deeply concerned, as am I, about the retaliation, the escalation. It's hard to achieve peace when violence is escalating.

And one of the reasons why we're sending Zinni back, and one of the reasons why I hope the vice president's effect -- trip will have a positive effect is because our message is, to both sides, "Reduce violence."

BUSH: As I mentioned in my remarks, Chairman Arafat must do everything he can to reduce the violence, to stop the spread of violence. We don't believe he's doing enough. And so I thought that the secretary's comment were wisely balanced.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you believe that the continuing and escalating violence is an indication of failure on the part of your administration in the approach you've taken of refraining to send General Zinni, of not ourself talking to Chairman...

BUSH: Oh, I think what the escalating violence shows is that there are people who believe in terror as a way of life, people who refuse to allow a peace process to go forward, people who don't want peace in the region. And our government is committed to saying to those folks, "We will do everything in our power to stop you from preventing a peace process from going forward."

And the first step toward any political solution has got to be the Tenet plan. George Tenet, obviously, works for the United States government, he's the person that laid out the plan. There is a road map for a peaceful solution. It's going to take a lot of effort by a lot of people, and we're willing to put in the effort and believe that General Zinni's trip can make a difference.

QUESTION: Mr. President, why are you personally only talking to one side in this conflict? Why don't you reach out to Chairman Arafat?

BUSH: Oh, I believe the administration speaks with one voice, and we've got ample amplification to both parties. And our strategy is a well-thought-out strategy; it's one that reminds both parties there's an obligation to seek peace.

BUSH: I fully understand the Israelis' perspective; that they want to defend themselves. That's why I've constantly called on Mr. Arafat to do a better job of reining in those who would wreak havoc on Israel.

I also agree with the secretary of state that it is going to be very hard to achieve a peaceful settlement if there is a tendency to want to constantly find a reason to escalate. And we hope that the Zinni mission will help get to Tenet, and that's where our focus is. Our focus is to get the parties into a process that the world agrees is a good process.

QUESTION: How is the Saudi plan an opening if it's based on things that the Israelis have long-rejected?

BUSH: Well, first of all, they cannot reject the notion of Crown Prince Abdullah that says, "We recognize Israel's right to exist." I think that's an important opening and I think that's an important statement by Crown Prince Abdullah.

Secondly, it's a position that I took, as well, at the United Nations when I said that there ought to be a Palestinian state. The borders of which, by the way, ought to be negotiated between the two parties, but both states recognize each other's right to exist. And it's an opening. The crown prince's decision to make that statement provides an opening. And that's another reason why the Zinni mission is going forward.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you've consistently called on Mr. Arafat to make, as you've said today, a maximum effort. What seems to be new this week is the administration's skepticism about Mr. Sharon. Are you worried, sir, that retaliation seems to be the only policy that he has in mind?

BUSH: First of all, I fully understand a nation's wanting to defend herself, and I appreciate that. After all, we're in defense of ourself right now. And I can understand the strong desire to enhance security for a people. And I believe that.

I believe what we're saying, though, is that there's got to be a vision for peace; there's got to be more than security; that there's got to be an attempt to achieve a lasting peace. And I hope that my friend, Prime Minister Sharon, agrees with that assessment.

BUSH: I think he does. I think he recognizes that you can't achieve peace by allowing violence to escalate or causing violence to escalate.

And so on the one hand, I fully understand his need to protect the people of Israel, and on the other hand, we look forward to working with him to get him to the Tenet plan. He thought the Tenet plan was a good plan. He agreed that the Mitchell plan is the proper course of action, and now we got to work hard to get into it.

QUESTION: Mr. President, can I ask you about the corporate responsibility measures you put forward?

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: Some Democrats are saying that they, kind of, fall far short of what's needed, and they say your own treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, was pushing for stronger measures, lowering the bar for punishment for corporate leaders.

BUSH: I think what they ought to do is look at my proposals; take a good hard look at them. They were very sound, solid proposals. It's the first formal package laid out for the American people to analyze about how to reform corporate governance.

I think it's also very important to make sure that as we reform corporate governance, we don't encourage frivolous lawsuits. I think it's very difficult to have a vibrant society in a free-enterprise sector that is riddled with massive lawsuits all the time.

So I want to have a balanced plan. And I put one out. I'm proud of it, and it makes a lot of sense. And I hope Congress acts on it.

QUESTION: Mr. President, is the recession over now, and looking back, do you think we ever really had one?

BUSH: Well, that's a trick question. And I appreciate you throwing that out there. I actually read clips from other parts of the world before I came out here today, so nice try.

There's no question our economy was hurt by the attacks on 9/11. We'll let the statisticians define what happened or what didn't happen. But our economy went through a massive slowdown, and people's lives were badly affected and a lot of people were laid off.

And that's why the House did the right thing today, and the Senate now needs to act. The House passed a very good bill. It's a bill that not only takes care of unemployed workers; it is a bill that has got some economic stimulus as a major part of it.

BUSH: And now the Senate needs to do something. The Senate needs to act and get the bill to my desk. And I look forward to signing it. You know, we've had too much non-movement on this important issue and it's time to go, time to get a bill.

And it's time for me to end the press conference.

Thank you.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush from the Rose Garden taking a couple of questions on a number of subjects, but mostly he was there to announce that the U.S. will send envoy Anthony Zinni back to the Middle East where there has been escalating violence for the past couple of weeks.

We have CNN Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna on the phone with us. Mike, I know you've been listening to all this, so, a quick couple of questions. First of all, did you hear anything new in the nuance of U.S. policy? And second of all, watching this from afar, as most of us do, it seems impossible to believe that a U.S. envoy can go over there and end the violence.

MIKE HANNA, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Candy, this certainly is a new nuance in U.S. policy. In fact, it represents a major U-turn in U.S. policy. We have heard within the last few minutes President Bush saying that the U.S. envoy, Anthony Zinni, is being sent back to the region, at a time when violence is at its height.

For months now, the U.S. has been saying that Anthony Zinni can only serve a role in this region if the violence has been reduced. General Zinni was here in January, at the beginning of January, and left, basically, with nothing accomplished whatsoever. The message coming then subsequently from the U.S. was that Zinni could do nothing while the violence continued.

The policy, up until this day and these last few minutes, has been that first the violence has got to reduce in level, before Anthony Zinni or any U.S. envoy can affect anything meaningful, in terms of getting a cease-fire in place, and subsequently, down the line, getting back to meaningful negotiations. What has been said in the last few minutes is that this policy has now changed. Anthony Zinni is returning to the region at a time when violence is more intense than it has been in 18 months of ongoing conflict.

The other very important factor in this that we heard President Bush refer to is an idea that has been floated by Saudi Arabia. It is not a plan. It is not a formulated proposal. It is an idea.

Now, this idea that President Bush referred to as a very encouraging sign, is forming the base of what is now a new U.S. initiative to attempt to get some kind of order back to this absolutely mad situation, in which the conflict is beyond any heights experienced before.

Now, the Saudi plan itself is not formulated in any way. And very important here is that Arab League foreign ministers are meeting in Cairo Friday to discuss this plan and find some way of formulating it to present to a summit of Arab leaders in Beirut towards the end of this month.

Now, the timing of President Bush's announcement now, within the last few minutes, is no doubt connected to this Arab League foreign ministers meeting. Here we see emerging a new U.S. initiative in the region, based in part, it appears, on a Saudi Arabian suggestion of how to get this violence to an end -- so a very significant thing we have just heard within the last few minutes, Candy.

CROWLEY: CNN Jerusalem chief bureau chief Mike Hanna, a man who knows whereof he speaks. Thanks, Mike.




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