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Saudi Arabian Foreign Policy Adviser Discusses Middle East Peace

Aired April 5, 2002 - 08:08   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The violence must stop, that is the message from President Bush to Israelis and Palestinians, as the U.S. involvement intensifies. Despite the spiral of violence, he, speaking of opportunity and hope, in part because of Arab support for the Middle East peace plan put forth by Saudi Arabia at last week's Arab summit.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This could be a hopeful moment in the Middle East. The proposal of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, supported by the Arab League, has put a number of countries in the Arab world closer than ever to recognizing Israel's right to exist.


ZAHN: And joining us now from Washington, Adel Al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

Welcome back. Welcome, sir.


ZAHN: First off, the president said yesterday that not only do Arab states have to fight terror, he also said they needed to promote economic development. What kind of commitment are the Arab states willing to make to the Palestinians?

AL-JUBEIR: Oh, we have a very serious commitment. We have a big stake in stability in the region and in peace in the region. We have genuine concern for the well being of the Palestinian people and historically we have never hesitated to provide whatever financial assistance is required to improve the lot of the Palestinians and I'm sure that we will continue to do so in the future.

ZAHN: Can you point to something you've done so far in the last year and a half or two years that's made life anything, any better for Palestinians?

AL-JUBEIR: Well, I could even take you back a little bit further than this. When the Oslo agreements were signed and when the famous handshake took place at the White House and the world gathered approximately $600 million a year in support of the Palestinians annually, Saudi Arabia provided $100 million of that.

Over the years we've provide assistance to the Palestinians in terms of building schools, roads, hospitals, paying salaries for their civil servants, for their security officials.

We've continued to do so. Over the past year we've committed almost $200 million to help the Palestinians with their economic plight and we will continue to do so in the future.

ZAHN: So what do you say to the folks who think Arab policy has promoted what they call the victim hood of Palestinians?

AL-JUBEIR: I don't believe that that's correct. I don't believe, and certainly not correct when it comes to Saudi Arabia. The last thing we want to see is more suffering among the Palestinian people. I believe that that kind of deflects from the real issue. The real issue is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. That's what's leading Palestinians to despair. It's the daily humiliations they have to go through that causes them to react in a violent way.

ZAHN: Are you confident that in Secretary of State Powell going to the region that any of this will change?

AL-JUBEIR: We have great confidence in the abilities of the secretary of state. We have great confidence in the commitment of the United States as shown yesterday in the president's speech. We have great hope that it will succeed. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say. There is really no alternative, Paula, to a peaceful settlement and a political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

ZAHN: I spoke with Dr. Henry Kissinger a little bit earlier this morning and he says it is absolutely imperative that the Arab states condemn suicide bombings and President Bush, as you know, repeated that demand again yesterday, and he made the demand that Yasser Arafat stop telling suicide bombers that they'll become martyrs.

Square that with the Organization of Islamic Countries, in a meeting earlier this week, refusing to categorize Palestinian suicide bombers as terrorists. Are they terrorists or not?

AL-JUBEIR: It depends. There is, there are conflicting views on this. Some people feel that the cause is justified and others feel that the actions are not justified.

ZAHN: What do you think?

AL-JUBEIR: Our religious leaders have come out a year ago and said that suicide bombing is not acceptable in Islam because it's the taking of one's own life as well as that of others. There are others in the Muslim world who have found ways to justify it. The important thing here is how do you stop the violence? The important thing is how do you end the occupation? The important thing is how do you engage the two sides so they can move towards a political settlement? And using helicopter gunships to blast away at apartment buildings, using roadblocks to prevent pregnant women from getting to hospitals to deliver unborn babies is not the way to do it.

ZAHN: Of course, you know, Mr. Al-Jubeir, the Israelis would argue that this is all part of their operation to root out terrorism. I just need a 10 second answer to this. Are you confident that you'll be able to sell the Saudi peace plan to the many of these demonstrators who are adamantly opposed to the Israelis and U.S. policy in the region?

AL-JUBEIR: The, yes. The Arab world has formally accepted the plan. It's really up to the Israelis to respond positively to it.

ZAHN: Adel Al-Jubeir, good to see you again. Thank you again for joining us on AMERICAN MORNING.

AL-JUBEIR: Thank you.

ZAHN: And as the conflict in the Middle East intensifies, Washington has been forced to take an even stronger role to try to ease the tensions there.

And for the very latest on the administration's position and their new strategy, we are joined by CNN White House correspondent Major Garrett -- good morning, Major.


You know, the administration has really shifted from a defensive posture, arguing for many, many days, not only here at the White House, but to its critics in Europe and the Arab world, that there was nothing wrong with the Middle East policy the president put forward, nothing wrong with having Anthony Zinni being the president's chief representative on the ground to try and negotiate a cease-fire.

Well, that all changed publicly yesterday. The policy actually changed on Monday and the White House devoted three days to making calls around the world and also preparing the president's rather lengthy statement on the issue yesterday. The president tried to touch on many different parts of this ongoing conflict, but among the most important things he said is that Israel had to begin withdrawing from the occupied territories and that its pursuit of terrorist nests, though legitimate, had to come to an end.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I ask Israel to halt incursions into Palestinian controlled areas and begin the withdrawal from those cities it has recently occupied. I speak as a committed friend of Israel. I speak out of a concern for its long- term security.


GARRETT: Paula, those last two sentences were really key in what the president wanted to say to Israel. The president in no way wanted to dictate military policy to the state of Israel, a sovereign government, a democratically elected one who the president believes has every right to defend itself. And yet the president was trying to speak to Israel, looking at its long-term self-interests, that over time these incursions are going to do more harm to Israel's security than good.

The president did not shy away from criticizing Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority chairman, saying in some ways the toughest language he has ever set aside for Chairman Arafat. Here's what the president had to say.


BUSH: The situation in which he finds himself today is largely of his own making. He's missed his opportunities and thereby betrayed the hopes of the people he's supposed to lead.


GARRETT: Paula, the key verb there is betrayed, which has tremendous meaning within the Arab, the Muslim world and Arab speaking world. What the president was trying to signal to Mr. Arafat, administration officials made it clear here at the White House yesterday, that his days as the chief interlocutor with the United States representing the Palestinian people may, in fact, be numbered. A senior administration official told us yesterday that when Secretary of State Powell visits the region he certainly hopes to see Chairman Arafat, but he reserves the right to see others within the Palestinian movement and the administration is also looking to Jordan and Egypt to take a more active role, not necessarily negotiating on behalf of the Palestinians, but speaking about their needs with the president and with Secretary of State Powell -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Major Garrett, thanks for that update. Appreciate it.

The Bush administration was widely criticized for its policy of so-called disengagement, some even called it incoherence, in the region. Or, as one former government official called it, strategic incoherence. So, how did the White House get from there to here?

Well, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield joins us with a look at quite a week in the White House. Good morning.


ZAHN: I feel like we all have whiplash from watching what was going on.

Is it fair to say, Jeff, that the White House was prodded into making this shift in strategy?

GREENFIELD: I think it is fair. I mean you look back to the beginning of this week, Bush last weekend simply said Israel has a right to defend itself. And then he was on to other matters. He met with New York's Mayor Bloomberg. He met with Governor Pataki. He met with the New England Patriots, that traditional Super Bowl champion. He was in an early education event. The focus was domestic and I think like every White House, it found itself simply overtaken by events.

ZAHN: So let's talk a little bit about the dynamic of the decision-making. On one hand, you have the president's policy of treating all terrorists the same. And at the same time he has the challenge of trying to build any kind of Arab support for a potential attack on Iraq.

GREENFIELD: Yes, and you really see that in some of, in the language that the White House and the administration was putting out. I mean on Monday Donald Rumsfeld specifically linked the suicide bombing to the greater issue about terrorism with Iran, Iraq, Syria. I think we have a brief clip from the secretary of defense here.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: States like Iran, Iraq and Syria are inspiring and financing a culture of political murder and suicide bombing.


GREENFIELD: Now, a few days later, as Major Garrett tells us, the president says he's dispatching Powell to the region. I don't think we have to hear the sound bite again, because we just heard it, and he's saying as a friend of Israel I'm calling on Israel pull out and stop your settlement activity, which is just a very different message.

ZAHN: So what is the message today, Jeff?

GREENFIELD: You know what? I think the most important message, if you just listen to the White House for the last couple of days is we are not sitting on the sidelines. We are involved. We have a whole series of statements from the president on down that you can hear that really over and over again seem to be focused on convincing, I think in this case, the Americans, as well as the European allies and the Arab states, we're involved in a process. We can take a listen to some of them.


BUSH: And they must have not been with me in Crawford when I was on the phone all morning long talking to world leaders.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is deeply personally involved.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: I can assure you that I am deeply engaged every day for hours of the day, as are my colleagues in the Bush administration, to include the president.


GREENFIELD: Now, what's interesting to me about this is if the administration were to say what a lot of people actually think, which is, you know what? As long as the Palestinians are committed to the eradication of Israel as a Jewish state, as long as is committed to its settlement activities, there's nothing we can do. To an American populace and to the world, that statement, which might be closer to the truth than anything else you could say, unacceptable.

ZAHN: And yet the administration had to make some kind of calculation here, and the "Washington Post" writes about it this morning. The risk of failure of this mission and the potential to alienate conservatives was less of a risk than having to deal with constant barrage of criticism about the alleged incoherence of the policy.

GREENFIELD: And criticism, in this case, also, remember that, as we've heard, this administration seems to be moving steadily to try and accumulate as many allies as it can in whatever it plans to do in Iraq and possibly Iran. And as it happens, the United States for years has found itself on, apart, even from some of its European allies, who some conservatives believe are reflexively pro- Palestinian. Not to mention the Arab states it wants help on.

So it is really, you know, the pun that you've heard a hundred times, it's caught between a rock and a hard place. But in this case that kind of flippant statement gets us fairly close to what's, to the truth.

ZAHN: Is it fair to say that the speech by and large was received well yesterday? Because I just saw one slight jab today at the "Wall Street Journal" basically saying that the president was pushing Israel too far to stop its siege and that, in fact, it was rewarding terror and propping up Arafat.

GREENFIELD: We'll see. It's, this is the first step and we can't make that judgment. I mean I think right now people are willing to give the president, the administration a chance, because the alternative seems to be so horrible.

ZAHN: And do you have any hopes for this mission next week that it might lead to short-term solutions at least?

GREENFIELD: I liked what I saw on CNN a few days ago, an optimist is someone who believes things can't get any worse.

ZAHN: I'll go with that definition.


ZAHN: Thanks, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: You're welcome.

ZAHN: Have a good weekend.

We're going to take a short little jaunt over to the other side of the studio, where Jack is standing by.


Thanks, Paula.

We just heard the president talking about suicide bombers. The Passover Massacre by a suicide bomber last month derailed the peace talks.

Now here is an amazing story of one of the victims of a recent bombing, a Jewish man, whose family donated the victim's organs to save the life of a Palestinian woman.

John Vause reports.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At a cemetery in Tel Aviv, another funeral for one of the victims of Israel's bloody Passover. Zaeb Vider (ph) killed by a suicide bomber at a hotel in the seaside town of Netanyahu. He was buried alongside his daughter Sevan (ph), also killed in the same attack. His father, brothers and wife still bear the physical scars of the blast which claimed 25 lives. Zaeb survived for a week on life support. When he died his family donated his organs and last night Ashab Buhada (ph) received one of his kidneys.

She waited for this transplant for two years and finally this Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem was saved by a Jewish victim of a suicide bombing.

ASHAB BUHADA: He's like my son, all our sons. Don't think I discriminate between a Muslim and a Jew. It's all the same.

VAUSE: Israelis have no say who receives a relative's organs. They're given on a basis of need.

DR. SHAHARABANI EZRA, SURGEON: It's kind of life here in Israel. We are all mixed together and patient, physicians, victims, all together.

VAUSE: Zaeb's son told me his father would be happy to know the he saved a life, any life.

MINROD VIDER: Even if it would be to give his organs to one of the families that was connected to the suicide bomber. So I'm sure that he will give it.

VAUSE: From Ashab's son, gratitude and condemnation of the suicide bombers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the Israeli Army won't stop it, the only solution is the table. Negotiations, that is the solution.

VAUSE: And from the family which has lost so much, hope this gift of life will be a symbol for both sides to end the violence.

VIDER: I don't believe that all Arabs are suicide bombers or -- I have Arab friends. We are walking with Arabs. I live around Arabs in the Jordan Valley. My father taught me all the time that this is the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), it's not a matter of any culture. Life is life for us. This is what he taught me and this is what I am doing.

VAUSE (on camera): According to his family, Zaeb Vider always believed that Israel could exist peacefully with its Arab neighbors. And they say now as a part of him still lives on, so, too, his hopes for Israel.

(voice-over): For now, though, two families both finding solace there can be life from so much death.

John Vause, CNN, Tel Aviv.






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