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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

Interview With Saeb Erakat

Aired April 6, 2002 - 07:02   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.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: This is the day eight of the Israeli incursions into Palestinian territories. Israeli troops now control most of the Palestinian towns on the West Bank, but not Jericho.

Joining me now by the phone from Jericho is chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat. Mr. Erakat, thank you for being with us.

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Let's talk about this meeting, this proposed meeting between Colin Powell and Yasser Arafat. First of all, do you think it's going to happen?

ERAKAT: I hope so. And, you know, President Arafat welcomes Secretary Powell, and he's willing to meet with him in order to put the specified road map (UNINTELLIGIBLE) implementation, all the de- escalation elements and the conflicting elements, as President Bush specified, resolution 1402, Tenet, Mitchell, resuming the negotiations.

And I hope that by the time Secretary Powell gets here, we will not have Israeli troops in our towns, they would have completed their withdrawal, and there will not be siege against President Arafat.

PHILLIPS: You mentioned your -- you actually are quoting, I understand, this statement from Yasser Arafat. You issued this response with regard to what President Bush had said a few days ago. And critics are saying that they don't know how real this is. Is it rhetoric, is it real? Do you truly believe that Yasser Arafat will stick by this response?

ERAKAT: Well, I believe President Arafat is the man who initiated the peace of the brave with the late Prime Minister Rabin. President Arafat became the first Palestinian leader to have recognized the existence of the state of Israel.

And by the way, you know, President Bush should understand, Palestinians are not a few groups of chiefs and tribes here and there. We have a central government. I'm an elected -- I represent Jericho, my constituency, in our parliament. President Arafat was elected directly by the Palestinian people.

And this should be respected, democracy should be respected. And we should not speak against democracy in the way of coup d'etats, who do you like and who do you don't like.

I heard some American officials questioning the possibility of Secretary Powell meeting President Arafat. And yes, I would say very honestly, we want Mr. Powell to meet President Arafat. We welcome this meeting. We're willing to exert every possible effort to ensure the success of his mission.

But if they want to insinuate this as an instrument of pressure on us, listen, gentlemen, we are an elected people, we have a central government. This must be respected. president Arafat is our elected leader. And if you choose not to meet Arafat, I don't think any Palestinian official will be interested in such meeting.

PHILLIPS: Why is that? Why wouldn't other Palestinian officials meet with Colin Powell, if he didn't meet with Arafat? Why not meet with other Palestinian leaders?

ERAKAT: Well, that's because, you know, of the isolation that's imposed on Arafat. That's because other people are telling the Palestinian who their leader should be. And this is shameful, and this is not democracy.

We are a democratic society, after all. President Arafat was very (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Imagine if someone comes to the United States and say, you know, the head of Russia or the head of a European country, comes to the U.S. and say, I don't want to meet President Bush because he's one, two, three, four, five. But I will meet with other American officials. Will this be acceptable?

PHILLIPS: Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, thank you very much, sir. We'll continue to discuss this throughout the morning, and I know we'll be talking to you again.

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