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Bush Outlines Mideast Position

Aired June 24, 2002 - 16:33   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Checking our INSIDE POLITICS "Newscycle": A monstrous wildfire has moved closer to an Arizona town. Exhausted and frustrated firefighters are doing all they can to try to keep the flames away from Show Low. Fire officials now say they expect spot fires in the town, but not a wall of flames, as earlier thought.

A bus crash east of Dallas today killed four children and the bus driver. Authorities say the vehicle started to weave and then struck a concrete pillar. The bus was carrying 40 children to summer camp in Louisiana.

And President Bush has outlined his long-awaited framework for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his speech a short time ago, Mr. Bush reaffirmed his commitment to Palestinian statehood, but he put an emphasis on democratic and security reforms within the Palestinian Authority as a necessary first step.

With us now: syndicated columnist Carl Jeffers and Rich Lowry of "The National Review."

Rich, does this -- that the president announced today move the parties closer to peace in the Middle East?

RICH LOWRY, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": I think it will, but over the long term.

I think it was a marvelous speech. And, if you put this speech together with the one at West Point a couple weeks ago, you see the full sweep of the administration's ambition in the Middle East. And it is nothing less than making a new kind of politics in the Middle East. The administration is saying, "We are no longer going to tolerate Arab dictatorships as if they were somehow inevitable."

I think that combination of an invasion and an eventual toppling of Saddam with this pressure on the Palestinians to reform is an attempt to create a new, freer, more pluralist politics in the Middle East. And that is where the ultimate solution to this conflict is going to be found.

WOODRUFF: Carl Jeffers, you agree this does move the parties closer to peace?

CARL JEFFERS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Oh, I think that, on the surface, it can move the parties closer to peace. First of all, I don't think we should confuse the potential invasion of Iraq and Saddam Hussein with the efforts for peace between Palestinians and Israel, because that is another issue that has its own controversy.

I applaud the president for staying engaged and continuing so. I see two quick problems, however, with the speech itself and possibly one way out. The two problems are -- and I listened to your interview with Pat Robertson -- first of all, even if we could leapfrog all of the problems with a free election and, like, tomorrow, we had Jimmy Carter there and we could have free elections in Palestine and in the Palestinian areas, they would probably still reelect Yasser Arafat as their leader. He is more popular now. So, we can't avoid that.

The second problem is that the concerns that are the major concerns of the Palestinians -- return to the '67 borders, ending of the settlements on the West Bank, and the future of Jerusalem -- were all issues the president laid out as being addressed after the provisional Palestinian state is set up. But in order to set up the provisional state, the concerns that have to be addressed there are only the concerns of Israel.

So, the Palestinians don't have a lot of incentive right now, unless they can get the issues moved up further and really simultaneously address with the issues that concern Israel.

And the way out of it, I haven't heard anyone mention this. But the president said that we need an externally supervised force to rebuild security. And that is very important, because that could be our key.

If we could bring in a military presence to help enforce the ending of violence in the territories, we could help Arafat if he is, in fact, the continuing leader, end the violence, which would give Israel the incentive to help really create a provisional Palestinian state.

WOODRUFF: Well, let me pick up on your first point first with Rich.

And that is Carl's point, Rich, that even if you held an election tomorrow, Yasser Arafat would win, that he is overwhelmingly popular.

LOWRY: Well, I'm not sure that's true.

The fact is, Arafat suffered a disastrous loss of standing in the wake of the Israeli incursions. Now, during those actual incursions, when he was embattled and stuck in his headquarters and a bit of a martyr figure, it's true his approval numbers went up. But they went right back down again after that invasion stopped.

And this is what the president is trying to do, in a very shrewd way. He is trying to get on the side of ordinary Arab people in the Middle East. And, yes, they are not very fond of Israel, but they have a lot of other concerns as well. They want a workable economy. They want freedom. And why is that we should only accept, around the world, the only people that can never be free are Arabs. They have to live under nasty dictatorships in perpetuity? And the administration is just saying, "No, we're not going to accept that anymore."

And if you created a Palestinian state tomorrow, Palestinians would not have any more rights than they have today.

WOODRUFF: Carl Jeffers, very quick response.

JEFFERS: Well, first of all, if you talk about the approval ratings going up and going to right back down, that doesn't defeat the fact that we all recognize there is a major danger here if we indeed accept that Yasser Arafat is not the leader, that, if the Palestinians are given the true freedom to determine who their leaders are, that, in this interim period, certainly over the next three years, Yasser Arafat might remain their leader.

And, thus, we would have to be prepared, as a contingency, to deal with that scenario. And I think that's as much a problem for us as the assumption that they could elect someone else.

WOODRUFF: All right, Carl Jeffers, syndicated columnist. Rich Lowry of "The National Review," gentlemen, good to see you both.

JEFFERS: Thank you.

LOWRY: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

JEFFERS: Good to be here.

WOODRUFF: "CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT" debuts this evening on CNN. On tonight's program: the story of admitted pedophile Paul Weiser. He wrote to "Dear Abby," like millions of others. But instead of giving him advice, she gave him up to the police. For the first time ever, Paul Weiser tells his story in a CNN exclusive. You can hear what he has to say on "CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT" at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

With us next on INSIDE POLITICS: Bob Novak on the president's speech and what it means for the Middle East peace process.


WOODRUFF: Just a little under an hour ago, President Bush laid out his vision for the next steps in the Middle East to move toward peace. He called for the creation of a Palestinian state, but only with new leadership for the Palestinian people and dramatic democratic reforms.

With me now: Bob Novak.

Bob, let me just read here. The president said, "Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership so that a Palestinian state can be born." He is clearly saying Yasser Arafat must go.


I don't think that the Israel government could be happier with that speech if it were written by Prime Minister Sharon's people. This was totally the Israeli position, that you don't get into a Palestinian state until there are many hoops that the Palestinian have to jump through. Then it's only provisional.

The very difficult questions of Jerusalem and boundaries wait -- the Palestinian state. So, this was something that was, I think, very disappointing to the Palestinians and very gratifying to the Israelis.

WOODRUFF: Well, I don't know if you were able to hear Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. I talked to him a little while ago after the speech. He said: The United States, in effect, can't just determine who our leader is. We can't parachute -- they can't just parachute in a new leader for our people. He said Yasser Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinian people.

NOVAK: See, that is the problem. The problem is, too, that there is no candidate. There is not a Charles de Gaulle or somebody, or a Bonnie Prince Charlie in waiting to put in. There is no mechanism for how you get rid of Arafat.

So, I really believe that this is the position of Prime Minister Sharon, which is a hard-line position. And Israel is very popular today politically, Judy, in the United States with both parties, maybe less so with American people, but pretty popular with the people. And there is very strong support inside the White House.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Novak joining us.

And we may come back to you in just a moment, Bob.

But right now, with us on the telephone is Ra'anan Gissin, who is an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Gissin, was the prime minister listening? And what was his reaction to the president's remarks?

RA'ANAN GISSIN, ADVISER TO ARIEL SHARON: Well, we issued an official statement following the speech.

And, in the statement, we just follow that Israel is a peace- seeking country. And the prime minister has reiterated several times in the past that, when there will be a complete cessation of violence, terrorism and incitement; and the Palestinian Authority will undergo real, comprehensive reforms, and at its head there will be the kind leadership that will create a different, a new Palestinian Authority, and different leadership for the Palestinian people, then it will be possible to advance and progress in the political courses of action that could lead to the fulfillment of the aspirations of both sides.

And I think, if I may add to that, the speech speaks for itself. And I think the Palestinians should get busy if they really want the realization of this vision, since, as the president has stated, they've got about three years.

WOODRUFF: Were you, as you listened -- and the president said at one point, he said, "As we make progress toward security, Israel's forces need to withdraw fully to positions they held before September 28, 2000." And he went on to say, "Consistent with the Mitchell Committee, Israel's settlement activity in the occupied territories must stop."

Can Israel...


WOODRUFF: Go ahead.


But let me make it very clear of what you just stated that everything that -- first comes first. And the first thing that comes first, I think that is the clear message. First, there has to be a cessation violence, terrorism and incitement. And it's incumbent not only upon the Palestinians, but upon the Arab leaders who seek peace and who claim to seek peace to urge the Palestinians to take an active role in doing just that.


WOODRUFF: Which Arab leaders?

GISSIN: Oh, he mentioned. He mentioned the Arab world at large. He mentioned that peace and freedom and prosperity are not just values of the American people. They are shared by the rich culture of the Arab leaders as well.

And it's incumbent upon them, if they pursue peace, to take that vigorous action. So, the onus of proof is clearly here on the Palestinian side. If they want to go the road to peace, there are certain actions, very clear and specifics things, that they have to do. Once they reform, so to speak, you know, and take those actions, then Israel will perform, but only then.

WOODRUFF: You said the onus in on the Palestinian side. I spoke a little while ago with the Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat. He said Mr. Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinian people, that he rose up from among the people, and how can the U.S. just come in and tell them to replace him?

GISSIN: Oh, the U.S. is not coming and telling them to replace him. The U.S., or the president of United States stated a very clear choice at the end of his speech. It's a choice between seeking peace and going the road to peace or continuing on the road to violence, terrorism, as they are doing now with the present leadership.

So, it's not a choice of a personal leader. It's a choice of a road that they have to take. And that clearly requires from them to make that decision who their leader should be. Are they choosing leaders that would lead them -- excuse me on the expression -- to the garbage pail of history, leaders that perhaps had some credence before September 11? Or are they choosing leaders that will lead them to the post-September 11 reality, a reality where it is very clear that countries who support peace must first fight terrorists? WOODRUFF: Ra'anan Gissin is an adviser and a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Gissin, thank you for much...

GISSIN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: ... for talking with us.

I should also say that we've been waiting to talk with Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian Cabinet minister. And we may be speaking with him in just a moment. He has been delayed.

In the meantime, I want to turn back to Bob Novak.

Bob, why was there so much secrecy, delay, if you will, about the preparations leading up to these remarks today on the part of the president?

NOVAK: This administration does everything in secret. It likes to do it in secret. And they don't like leaks. And I think it was surprising to some people what an Israeli tilt there was on the speech.

I was interested in Mr. Gissin, who said very frankly that any question, as the president said, of pulling the Israeli troops out and of no settlements, that comes after a change in the Palestinian leadership and a reformation of the Palestinian state.

Secondly, I was very interested that Mr. Gissin said it's the responsibility of the other Arab states. This follows a secret meeting that Prime Minister Sharon had with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that I wrote about in which he called Mubarak, the president of Egypt, a liar, said you couldn't trust the Saudi royal family.

So, I think that this Israeli strategy is to have the United States and Israel as opposed to the Arabs, in which Mr. Sharon calls the 100-years war. Well, obviously, that is not President Bush's policy, but I think that is the interpretation that the Israel government would like to make.

WOODRUFF: Bob, what do we look for next? We haven't heard yet from Yasser Arafat, but all indications are he's not going to be happy with this. He's not going to suddenly -- we assume he's not going to suddenly say: "OK, I step down. I am not going to be leader of these people."

So, what do we look for next here?

NOVAK: I don't see anything that happens, because I don't see anybody who is going to say, "Yes, Mr. President, we're going to get rid of him tomorrow or next month." The second thing is, of course, there are the terrorists, the murderers, the Hamas. They are going to continue their campaign of suicide bombings. And I don't...

WOODRUFF: Whether there's a vision out there of a Palestinian state or not.

NOVAK: Absolutely, because they don't want a Palestinian state. They want the destruction of Israel. And the intransigence of saying, "Gee, we cannot have any Palestinian state until we end all the terrorist bombings," is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the people who are conducting the bombings don't want a Palestinian state.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Novak, we appreciate you dropping by. Thanks you very much.

We're going to take a break. When we come back, we will get the view from Capitol Hill on the president's remarks on the Middle East.


WOODRUFF: Well, first reaction from Yasser Arafat coming in now to President Bush's speech on Middle East within the hour, a statement from leader of Palestinian Authority, among other things, saying they welcome the ideas in President Bush's speech as, quote, "a serious effort to push the peace process forward." It goes on, evidently, not to respond to the president's call for new Palestinian Authority leadership, but does indicate that there should be direct discussions between the Palestinians and U.S. leaders.

Let's go to Capitol Hill now to get some reaction there to what the president has laid out.

Kate Snow, you have been talking to a lot of people. What are you hearing?

KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So far, mostly positive, Judy, in fact all positive. Mr. Gephardt, the minority leader, may be putting out a somewhat critical statement, just saying: How can this work? If this is going to take three years down the road, how are they going to make it work? But other than that, from both Republicans and Democrat primarily positive.

And joining me now is the Republican House majority whip, Tom DeLay.

Appreciate you stopping by here.

I want to get your reaction. You have been -- you and others have been somewhat critical of the idea of posing the possibility of a Palestinian provisional state, worried that it is going to essentially reward terrorists. What do you think of what the president said today?

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: Well, I think president has once again shown incredible leadership. He has stated very clearly, with moral clarity, that the terrorism has to stop, that terrorists cannot run the Palestinian Authority, that they have to bring reforms. And he understands that the Palestinian people need hope and prosperity for the future. And he has laid out a plan to do that. He is not going back to the old failed peace process that allowed Arafat to come into Israel, build terrorist organizations, and now is using them.

SNOW: So, enough conditions in what he said to satisfy some of the more conservative...

DELAY: Absolutely.

The president is calling for a democracy for the Palestinian people. It's amazing that the Palestinian people have been held in poverty by their own leaders, and right next door, you have democracy and prosperity. The Palestinian people can have that. That is a wonderful hope for the future.

SNOW: President Bush mentioned asking Secretary Powell to begin conversations, intensively, he said, work with regional and international leaders to try to make this kind of vision of a Palestinian state work. Should Secretary Powell go to the region, do you think?

DELAY: Well, I don't know about that. Obviously, secretary Powell is more than capable of carrying out the president's vision. Obviously, the president has shown a leadership that will gather people around him. When you show strong leadership, the Arab countries as well as European countries will rally around this president. I am very confident of that.

SNOW: How much consultation was there between the president, the White House and Congress on this? I know you have been talking to Condoleezza Rice fairly frequently.

DELAY: A lot of consultation. The president has been working with the Congress, understanding Congress' strong support for Israel. They have been working with us and talking to us about these kinds of issues. Understanding that we need new Palestinian leadership, that we need democracy in the region, that we need to stop terrorism.

SNOW: One last quick question on the question of Palestinian leadership: If they hold legitimate elections and elect Yasser Arafat, what happens then?

DELAY: I don't think that will happen. I think moderate Palestinians that recognize Israel's right to exist will start coming forward, because right now, if they come forward, Arafat kills them. So, now you will see moderate Palestinians coming forward, knowing that we will watch over them and protect them.

And I think you will start seeing people that understand that they really want peace and they want to raise their families and they want hope for the future start coming forward.

SNOW: House Majority Whip Tom DeLay joining us here for quick reaction to the president's speech.

Really appreciate you coming by.

DELAY: Thank you. SNOW: And, Judy, that reflects some of what we're hearing from both Republicans and Democrats, as I said, primarily positive reaction thus far. We're waiting for more statements to come out as the evening progresses -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kate Snow at the Capitol with House Majority Whip Tom DeLay.




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