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Interview With Former Ambassador Robert Pelletreau

Aired March 29, 2002 - 09:11   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: Joining me now is someone who has negotiated cease-fires between the two sides before. From Washington, Former Assistant Secretary of State and Former Ambassador to Egypt Robert Pelletreau. Welcome. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.

ROBERT PELLETREAU, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE AND FORMER AMBASSADOR TO EGYPT: Pleased to be here.

ZAHN: I would love for you to -- I know you probably didn't hear all these interviews -- reflect on some of what we've heard from both sides this morning. The Palestinian negotiator we checked in with says it is clear to him Israel is trying to kill Yasser Arafat. Mr. Sharon's spokesperson says that is not the case saying. We're simply trying to isolate him. What is going on?

PELLETREAU: We're engaged now in another round of retaliation and counter-retaliation in this cycle of violence and counter-violence that we've been seeing over the past months and we've seen, also, that it really doesn't work. Every time the Israelis retaliate for a horrific incident like the Passover massacre we've just seen, it seems to just create another group of suicide bombers.

I think there is a better way. There is a way to help Arafat bring about a control of this situation but we're not going to see it click in or take effect right away until we have another round of this cycle of retaliation.

ZAHN: Mr. Pelletreau, if you would be kind enough to stand by.

I've just learned -- joining us on the telephone is Nebel Abdul Radanya (ph) who is a spokesperson for Mr. Arafat. He is in that compound now that is surrounded by Israeli tanks. Mr. Radanya (ph), thank you for joining us on A.M. What is going on right now?

NEBEL ABDUL RADANYA (ph): Well, the Israeli tanks are still surrounding the compound and the headquarters of President Arafat. They tried several times to storm several buildings. They already invaded the western side of the compound. And they are shelling heavily right now in order to -- to control another building adjacent to the headquarters of President Arafat.

This situation is very dangerous. And this Israelis are not playing with fire. They are carrying out a war of terror against the Palestinian people and their leadership. And the Israeli's are trying to sabotage every single effort, even the efforts of Gen. Zinni, to safeguard the peace process. The Israeli's ...

ZAHN: Mr. Radanya (ph). I just wanted you to react to something we heard from Mr. Sharon's spokesperson earlier this morning. He denies that Israelis have fire any provocative shots into Mr. Arafat's office. He said if that happened it was only because the Palestinians fired shots at Israeli soldiers and they fired in self-defense.

RADANYA (ph): Well, first of all, what the Israel tanks are doing in Ramallah around the headquarters of President Arafat. We are under (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the Israeli's army is calling it a war of terror as I told you. And we asked you to let them -- let the media, the CNN, the other people to come and to see by their eyes what is happening and what's going on. The Israelis are carrying of war of attrition against the Palestinian people and they are endangering the stability and peace of the whole region, which will reflect negatively on everybody including the Israelis.

ZAHN: Of course, the Israel's accuse you, the Palestinian side, of that same war of attrition. Does Mr. Arafat really believe the Israelis are trying to kill him?

RADANYA (ph): First of all, I wanted you to remind Israelis that we are under occupation for the last 37 years. And occupation is the real terror on earth. This terrorism and these attacks should be stopped immediately and we urge the Americans to interfere and to stop these attacks immediately because this situation is very grave and very dangerous. And as we said or mentioned briefly yesterday that this will reflect negatively on everybody.

ZAHN: Mr. Radanya (ph), we understand you are very close to Yasser Arafat in his office. Can you put Mr. Arafat on the telephone?

RADANYA (ph): As a matter of fact, President Arafat is carrying telephone calls with his colleagues and Arab presidents. He just finished talking to President Mubarak and talked to Prime Minister of Spain last night. He received several telephone calls including telephone calls from Gen. Zinni. He's conducting a lot of telephone calls with a lot of Arab and foreign leaders and including European leaders in order to contain the situation.

ZAHN: We would like to give him the opportunity to talk to the America people. Is he off a phone call and could he just spend a minute or two?

RADANYA (ph): Yes, we might arrange that very soon. Maybe later.

ZAHN: OK. Well, we are on the air for the next 40 minutes so hopefully you can arrange that. Before we let you go, Mr. Arafat has said yesterday on Al-Jazeera, they want to kill me. They either want to kill, they either want to capture me or they want to expel me. Which of those three things do you think he thinks is most likely?

RADANYA (ph): First of all, what -- that was mentioned by the Israelis themselves. They were studying these three issues in their cabinet meeting last night. And they were trying to find out and let's wait and see what kind of decision they have taken for sure they are damaging the peace process. They are endangering the two people, the Israeli and the Palestinian people, by this aggression, by this terror. These attacks should be stopped immediately because this is -- this will endanger everybody in the Middle East.

ZAHN: Mr. Radanya (ph), we would like to keep you on the line and if and when Mr. Arafat is available, we will come back to you live. Thank you very much ...

RADANYA (ph): Thank you. Bye-bye.

ZAHN: All right, let's check back in to Robert Pelletreau, who is a former State Department official who has actually negotiated with both sides to give us your take on what you've just heard.

What signal are the Palestinians sending here?

PELLETREAU: The Palestinians can't help, but at this point, but to resist and reject the Israeli military action that's taking place. But the Israelis have not gone all the way against Mr. Arafat. He remains a figure in play, and once you get through this latest military round, there is going to have to be a return to a new political engagement where we see if we can't bring about a mutual ceasefire and a path to return to peace negotiations. It isn't going to happen right away because thing anger and the shock are so great. But, obviously, Mr. Arafat is going to stay in play to be a factor in that next -- that next step.

ZAHN: Do you think the Israeli government is trying to kill Yasser Arafat?

PELLETREAU: No, I don't. I think that the Israeli government recognizes, first of all, that there would be a tremendously negative international outcry if Mr. Arafat was killed and no matter how frustrated you are with him, and I can certainly understand why the Israelis and others get very frustrated with him, he remains the symbol of the Palestinian identity, Palestinian nationalism and the Palestinian hope for Palestinian state. So he still has a very important role to play.

ZAHN: Mr. Pelletreau thank you for your patience and your reflections to be interview that so rudely interrupted your interview. Delighted to have you with us on this holiday morning.

PELLETREAU: Sure.

ZAHN: Robert Pelletreau, former State Department official.

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