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Can U.S. be an Honest Broker for Peace?

Aired March 24, 2002 - 08:14   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Middle East peace. We've been talking about it all morning and we've been telling you to send us e-mails and you have been listening. We appreciate your participation. We're going to just warn you in advance we can only get a small fraction of these e-mails on the air. We're trying to get those that are representative of feelings out there. We appreciate your participating.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: And we've got three folks joining us, Mike Hanna, our CNN Jerusalem bureau chief, Tony Karon with -- he joins us from New York -- and our military analyst, retired Major General Don Shepperd. He joins us from Tucson, Arizona.

Hello, gentlemen.

TONY KARON, TIME.COM: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: And one more thing. We would invite you to call us right now. While we have plenty of e-mails, we would also like to hear from you telephonically. The phone number is 404-221-1855. We're sorry, we don't have the budget for a toll-free number, but we think it's worth the money.

Let's get right to the e-mails, gentlemen, shall we? Hasan Ahmad in Toronto, Canada, one of our frequent e-mailers, has this. "If the U.S. government recognizes Arafat as the leader of the Palestinians, he should have met him" -- meaning Cheney -- "for the first time to accept, for thinking about it now, which would show that the Muslim world clearly that the U.S. was biased towards the Israeli g." I garbled that a little bit but basically Mr. Ahmad is saying that the U.S. cannot act as an honest broker for peace.

Mike Hanna, let's start with you on that point.

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a constant Palestinian criticism and one from the Arab world, that the U.S. has been less an honest and equal broker in the ongoing negotiations or lack of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. This is why the meeting between U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Yasser Arafat was regarded as so important by the Palestinians, a sign, perhaps, of the greater U.S. involvement and of less, from the Palestinian point of view, U.S. bias in dealing with it.

Now, that meeting not confirmed yet that it's going to take place. There are preconditions for that meeting, including the fact that Yasser Arafat has got to be seen to make a cease-fire work, to get a cease-fire in place.

But certainly the whole issue of U.S. involvement in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict or the resolution of this particular conflict from the Arab world, from Palestinians' continual insistence of U.S. bias denied by the United States. The bottom line of the U.S. is that it will talk to anybody if it can get a cease-fire in place and this is why there is a special envoy in the region, Anthony Zinni.

O'BRIEN: Tony Karon, let me, just as a follow-up to Ahmad's question, if not the U.S., then who?

KARON: Well, I think everybody is relying on the U.S. because ultimately the U.S. is the only power with the capability of influencing the Israelis. I think, you know, the real question is going to be how this plays in the Arab world. It is, I think it is going to be perceived as, you know, the criticism is going to be that the U.S. should have met with Arafat as a way of putting a cease-fire in place rather than making a meeting with Cheney being some sort of reward for a cease-fire. You know, I think the Arab world would tend to see this as a way of actually solving, helping to solve the problem rather than as an outcome.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's shift gears a little bit. Bob Golden has an e-mail for us for Don Shepperd. "In the war on terrorism there there's talk that we are going to more places. But aren't we starting to spread our armed forces a little too thin?"

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Miles, not right now. Our armed forces are heavily engaged in Afghanistan. That's a difficult place because it's halfway around the world and difficult to support. Everything has to be flown in right now. We can go other places. We can do other contingencies. But our military forces are down to about 1.2 million active duty forces. And so we are spread thin, especially if we start doing any kind of large operations. If you combine an Iraq and someplace else with Afghanistan, we'd have a real problem on our hands and be spread too thin then. But right now we're OK.

O'BRIEN: All right, we've got a phone call -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Aviv (ph) from Canada is on the line. Go ahead, Aviv. What's your question?

AVIV: You know, people talk about peace with the Palestinian people. But my question is how would you expect to make peace with people who don't recognize the state of Israel? For example, the Palestinian charter still calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and they refuse to remove it. So I mean how can you even discuss peace when there's no recognition of the actual country you're trying to make peace with?

PHILLIPS: Mike, you want to start with that?

HANNA: Yes, indeed, well, for the record, the Palestinian Authority in terms of the Oslo Accords, which were reached about a decade ago, they do, in fact, recognize the state of Israel. There are elements within Palestinian society which do not. The militant organizations such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas are completely opposed to recognition of Israel and, in fact, opposed to the Palestinian Authority for the fact that the Authority is even discussing a cease- fire or, indeed, a wider ranging peace with Israel.

But for the record, the Palestinian Authority says that it is prepared to recognize the state of Israel and it wants to live in peace alongside the state of Israel. That is what is said publicly. Israel disputes whether that may, in fact, be the case.

O'BRIEN: All right, we've got a little piece of news to inject in this. Wolf Blitzer is sitting down right now interviewing Vice President Dick Cheney. We're told that in the course of that interview the vice president has said he is not going to be meeting with Yasser Arafat. As a matter of fact, I think we have a little excerpt turned around right now. Let's listen to it.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Are you going back to the Middle East? That's the key question right now.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I imagine I will at some point, but there's nothing currently scheduled.

BLITZER: What about this meeting that's going on right now between General Zinni, the special U.S. envoy, the Israelis and the Palestinians? Is it possible that as early as today or tomorrow you could be going back?

CHENEY: Well, remember what the proposition here is, Wolf. General Zinni is there as our emissary. He's presiding over what are called trilateral security meetings. This is an effort to get the two sides to come together and agree upon a specific plan for the implementation of the so-called Tenet work plan, if you will.

What we've said is that if Arafat will get actively into that plan, actually implement and begin to make progress, put out the kind of effort that we haven't seen up till now in terms of the provisions that are required in Tenet, then I'd be prepared to meet with him. But to date they have not gotten to that point yet.

BLITZER: And, but you're still waiting for a final word from General Zinni?

CHENEY: Well, the, I talked with General Zinni as recently as last night. General Powell is -- and I talk daily on the subject. The, this is just one more piece, if you will, of the whole proposition. I wouldn't overdo it in the sense that somehow everybody is focused in on this as the be all and end all of the process. It's not. It's a part of the process. If, in fact, Arafat will do what he has in the past said he will do, if he'll actually deliver on the Tenet plan, if he'll move to put a lid on the violence and do what's required of Tenet, for example, sharing of intelligence information, take responsibility for securing their own areas so attacks can't be launched against the Israelis and vice versa, if, in fact, those steps are actually implemented, then at that point I'll be prepared to meet with Mr. Arafat. To date that hasn't happened and therefore there's no meeting currently scheduled.

BLITZER: How much of a pressure point is the fact that the Arab summit occurs in Beirut later this week, Wednesday, and Thursday, and Arafat certainly would like to go?

CHENEY: Well, I think he would like to go but that's really independent of whether or not he meets with me.


O'BRIEN: All right, always in these situations you really have to listen to the nuances, read the tea leaves, if you will. And I'm hoping Mike Hanna was able to hear that. Mike, were you able to hear the vice president?

HANNA: Yes, indeed. I heard that statement, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, it seems as if while he said no immediate plans, he did not rule out a fairly quick visit in the near term future, at least, with Arafat, assuming this Zinni meeting produces something. Is that an accurate read of what he just said?

HANNA: Yes, it is, and, in fact, it's a repetition of what he said when he was visiting the region a short while ago. There was no meeting formally scheduled, I must make this point. Vice President Cheney had said that he would be prepared to meet with Arafat if the conditions were right, if Arafat had implemented or begun to implement the cease-fire plan, the George Tenet cease-fire plan. That had been Cheney's position all along and what he's just told Wolf there is a resentment of that position, that if the cease-fire plan is implemented, if Arafat is seen or if Zinni regards Arafat as taking major steps in terms of that cease-fire plan, then a meeting will be scheduled.

But that is the way it is and that's the way the vice president has been outlining it for the last few days.

O'BRIEN: All right, and we should point out, by the way, you'll see that interview in its entirety about three and a half hours from now on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer." Tony, your thoughts on what you just heard from the vice president -- and there you see the graphic on that. Dick Cheney, noon Eastern on "Late Edition." What do you think, Tony? Was that, I didn't hear anything radically different from what the president has said to date, except that as time draws nearer, the chances of a meeting grow slimmer, I suppose?

KARON: Right. I think one thing that the vice president said that was important was that his meeting is not the be all and end all of the process. In fact, in many ways it was simply a symbolic gesture, probably towards the Arab world. And not having the meeting, I think, we'll draw some criticism precisely for the reason that, you know, the Arab world will say the U.S. doesn't set conditions on meeting with Sharon, it shouldn't be setting conditions on meeting with Arafat.

But I think, you know, what we have to look at in terms of Zinni's mission is whether this is not going to beg the question of whether the current cease-fire proposals are going to be sufficient. It seems as if what we're seeing is that essentially Arafat's not being offered enough of an incentive for his, from his point of view, to make the changes that the U.S. and Israelis want him to make.

So the question is going to become if this fails, presumably we're going to see some sort of an escalation in what new approaches are going to be brought to the table because presumably Arafat's going to say, you know, Zinni -- and Mitchell and Tenet were sort of designed for the situation a year ago. Tings have changed quite considerably on the ground and perhaps, you know, I think the Palestinians are going to be pushing for a lot more of a collapsing of security and political talks into the same process.

PHILLIPS: Another phone call, Eduardo (ph) from California. Go ahead, Eduardo.

EDUARDO: Good morning. I have two questions. The first is given Ariel Sharon's record of racist contempt for Arabs from the massacres at Sabra and Shatila to his sabotage of the peace process with his march 18 months ago to the Hiramoshiraf Mosque (ph) with 1,000 troopers, which really precipitated the recent violence, why is the responsibility for the violence placed almost exclusively on Yasser Arafat? And question two, you report on possible nuclear threats from Iraq and Iran, but it is reasonable for these countries to want to have some kind of deterrent weapon given Israel's deployment of the Jericho II missile, which gives Israel the capability to destroy almost every major city in the Arab world. Yet this threat goes literally unreported in the American news media and should also be addressed if you want to address Arab weapons of mass destruction.

PHILLIPS: Two questions there. Tony, why don't you take the first part of that and then maybe General Shepperd, you can talk about the nuclear threat part of the question?

KARON: Well, I don't think it's correct to say Ariel Sharon precipitated the violence, although, perhaps, you know, his visit to the Temple Mount may have actually sparked off a specific set of events.

I think really the violence of the past 17 months is a symptom of the failure of Oslo. That's the big picture here. The big picture is that Oslo, the peace process, was what ended the first intifada. And once the peace process itself failed or collapsed, it was pretty much inevitable that the result would be a resumption of violence because the essential, you know, pattern of what we see on the West Bank and Gaza is that, you know, the Israelis say they need their presence there for security reasons. The Palestinians say they're under occupation. That's the essential clash that we're seeing here.

And I think, you know, it was inevitable once it couldn't be resolved at the negotiating table that they were going to resume negotiations through violence, because really the violence is a form of negotiation in itself. Both sides are deploying force to try and get the other side to accept their terms.

PHILLIPS: General Shepperd, do you want to take the second part of that question with regard to nuclear threats out of Iraq?

SHEPPERD: Yes, this is not about who has what kind of weapons and what kind of threats are going back and forth. It's about who can deliver peace and what conditions can deliver peace. Clearly, both sides have weapons supplied by others. The Israelis clearly have nuclear weapons. Iran and Iraq are pursuing nuclear weapons. And the tilt of the presses, as the caller asked about there, that's not what all this is about.

It's about can we bring any type of cease-fire and get the two sides into negotiations to talk. And overlying all that is Mr. Sharon can deliver the Israeli side and the United States can put a lot of pressure on the Israeli side. But can Arafat deliver the Palestinian side? I think that's the key to this question, not about the weapons, who's going to employ them and who's got them -- Kyra.

O'BRIEN: All right, we spent a little bit of time on breaking news, to I apologize in advance to our e-mailers, because we're not going to get to as many as we hoped. Let's get to Brian Lawlor's, though, out of New Brunswick, Canada. I've noticed a lot of Canadian viewers. We thank you for being with us north of the border. "Arafat is the door to diplomacy," he writes, "and Hamas and Islamic Jihad the door to continued violence. Best to keep the door with Arafat open. It must be understood that Mr. Arafat cannot control Hamas or the Islamic Jihad."

Mike Hanna, true statement?

HANNA: Well, potentially true. The Palestinian leader does say that Hamas, Islamic Jihad may not follow his instructions. As I said earlier, they are both opposed to any form of negotiation with Israel, any form of cease-fire negotiation, any form of wider peace. So very difficult to see whether Arafat can control such groups directly.

However, what Israel would contend is that he can control them through effective use of his security forces, that no attempt is being made to use the security forces to clamp down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as was done back in '96 and in '97, when these militant organizations were carrying out a series of attacks against Israel. Then Arafat shared information with the Israeli intelligence. There was all sorts of linkage and talks going on between Israelis and the Palestinian leadership. This has not been the case in the past 17 months. So therefore while Arafat may not have direct control over these extreme militant groups, Israel would contend that he can use his security forces to control them by force, if necessary.

KARON: Miles...

O'BRIEN: Yes, do you want to go in, Tony?

KARON: Yes, I'd like to answer that. O'BRIEN: Yes.

KARON: I think the other thing that's important to note here is that the bulk of the violence in the past two or three months in the West Bank and Gaza particularly has actually been carried out by people allied with Fatah, Arafat's own movement. And, you know, really they've very deliberately set about reclaiming the streets from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. And what, so the question is really is Arafat, does Arafat have an incentive in the situation politically to actually reign them in? Because, you know, even now some of those militants are still carrying out attacks despite Arafat talking about a cease-fire. And a lot of my sources in the region are indicating that actually Arafat hasn't seen the sort of political prize yet that would make him inclined to really, you know, go and take apart an institution that pretty much helped restore his political standing.

Because, you know, the brutal reality is that it's precisely the crisis that's been engendered by the last couple of months, particularly on the West Bank and Gaza, that have brought Arafat back into the limelight.

O'BRIEN: Now, one more pair of e-mails here and then we're going to have to call it quits, unfortunately. But as usual, our viewers have once again reminded us to give some context to our discussion. We often forget this. Peter Gluklick in Huntington Woods, Michigan has this. "Why is there no recognition in the press that the occupied territories are effectively the spoils of war? Israel was the clear victor of the '67 war, but they were not the aggressor." A related e- mail, "After WWII, Allied forces occupied Germany for many years. How is the Palestinian-Israeli situation any different?" That from Pat in Connecticut.

Let's start with you, Don Shepperd, and remind us of the history here of the '67 War and how that directly relates to what we're talking about today.

SHEPPERD: Yes, well, basically this is a lot different from WWII and it was about the survival of a nation in the case of Israel. Israel is surrounded by people that want to bring its demise, want to kill it. That was not necessarily the case with the Allied powers in WWII when the Allied powers occupied Europe, won the war and then set Europe free, if you will.

That's not the case. In this particular case Israel is being attacked by people that want to see it vanish and that makes all the difference in the world, Miles.

O'BRIEN: And Mike Hanna, I'll let you have a final thought sort of on that point.

HANNA: Well, the Palestinians would contend that the root cause of the ongoing violence and the ongoing conflict is the occupation. The Palestinians will say well, the cause of the violence is the occupation, stupid. Israel says that this issue of occupation is one that it is prepared to discuss, to negotiate. But it will not negotiate at the point of a sword. Israel says it will not be forced into removing its forces, which are, it says, in Palestinian areas for the security of the state of Israel. It will not be forced into redeploying these forces. It will not be forced into ending the occupation of many of the Palestinian areas.

So the situation, while Israel says hey, we will discuss this, but we can't begin discussing it until the violence stops. The Palestinians say the violence will not stop until the occupation does. So it's just one of those insoluble puzzles that are so much a part of this region -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, we leave it as we always do right back smack dab at the conundrum.

Thank you very much, Mike Hanna, Tony Karon, Don Shepperd. We appreciate you taking the questions.

And thanks to you, lots of great e-mails today. And we appreciate your phone calls, as well. Thanks for participating.




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