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Bush Updates Efforts to Win Mideast Peace

Aired March 14, 2003 - 10:00   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And it looks like we can see President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as John ducks out of the picture.
Let's listen in to the president.

GEORGE W. BUSH. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning. We have reached a hopeful moment for progress toward the vision of Middle Eastern peace that I outlined last June.

I spoke of a day when two states, Israel and Palestine, will live side by side in peace and security. I called upon all parties in the Middle East to abandon old hatreds and to meet their responsibilities for peace.

A Palestinian state must be a reformed and peaceful and democratic state that abandons forever the use of terror.

The government of Israel, as the terror threat is removed and security improves, must take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable and credible Palestinian state and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement. As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end.

And the Arab states must oppose terrorism, support the emergence of a peaceful and democratic Palestine and state clearly that they will live in peace with Israel.

This moment offers a new opportunity to meet these objectives. After its recent elections, the nation of Israel has a new government, and the Palestinian Authority has created the new position of prime minister.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders and other governments in the region now have a chance to move forward with determination and with good faith.

To be a credible and responsible partner, the new Palestinian prime minister must hold a position of real authority. We expect that such a Palestinian prime minister will be confirmed soon.

Immediately upon confirmation, the road map for peace will be given to the Palestinians and the Israelis. This road map will set forth a sequence of steps toward the goals I set out on June 24, 2002, goals shared by all the parties. The United States has developed this plan over the last several months in close cooperation with Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

Once this road map is delivered, we will expect and welcome contributions from Israel and the Palestinians to this document that will advance true peace. We will urge them to discuss the road map with one another.

The time has come to move beyond entrenched positions and to take concrete actions to achieve peace.

America is committed, and I am personally committed, to implementing our road map toward peace.

Our efforts are guided by clear principles: We believe that all people in the Middle East, Arab and Israeli alike, deserve to live in dignity, under free and honest governments. We believe that people who live in freedom are more likely to reject bitterness, blind hatred, and terror, and are far more likely to turn their energy toward reconciliation, reform and development.

There can be no peace for either side in the Middle East unless there is freedom for both. Reaching that destination will not be easy, but we can see the way forward. Now the parties must take that way step by step, and America will be the active partner of every party that seeks true peace.

Thank you very much.

KAGAN: It doesn't look like President Bush is going to take any questions today, coming out and making a statement about what he says is an upcoming road map for peace from the United States for the Middle East, seeking a peaceful solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis. President Bush saying that settlement activity in the future by the part of the Israelis and terrorism on the part of the Palestinians must cease. He said hopeful signs there is a new Palestinian prime minister and new government, or new recent elections for the Israelis, hoping that this will be a place for the two groups to come together and try to find some peace.

Let's go ahead and bring back our senior White House correspondent John King here.

John, the president and the United States has take an lot of international criticism that it had forgotten the crisis taking place between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This would seem perhaps not an answer, but a response to that criticism.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly the president making clear at least he hopes the beginning now of getting the Israelis and the Palestinians back toward a peace process. There is no process to speak of right now. We are still in a delicate situation. Prime Minister Sharon has said he will not negotiate with the Palestinian Authority headed by Yasser Arafat. Mr. Arafat has named a new prime minister. He is a prime minister that the West, including the United States likes, but you heard President Bush reiterate one of the lingering concerns in the United States government that prime minister must have actual real authority, as the president put it, and not just be a figurehead installed by Mr. Arafat to deal with the international criticism.

The president says once the new prime minister is confirmed, he will give the document, the road map to peace as he calls it. It's a sequence of events, a lot of it is security improvements in there, call for a dialogue between the two parties, something that has not happened in a period of months now, Mr. Bush saying it is time he believes after the Israeli elections with the new Palestinian prime minister to once again give it a chance. There is a great deal of skepticism including in this White House as to whether the parties are committed to make the steps necessary but you do see the president promising to put his road map on the table and once again, put the United States at the forefront of trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the bargaining table.

KAGAN: John, to some who have been so focused on the news that is focused on Iraq, this might seem like this is a left turn. If you can explain how it plays into the same big picture, please.

KING: Certainly this administration has been under criticism for some time. Go back a year ago when Dick Cheney traveled to the Middle East to turn attention to what we call the showdown with Iraq, many of the Arab nations, the leaders, said they viewed the Palestinian as much more of a threat in the Middle East than Saddam Hussein. The administration has been accused of putting this on the back burner. You see more than 200,000 U.S. troops in the region stationed in Arab countries in Saudi Arabia, in Kuwait, Qatar, in Bahrain, in Oman, all those governments have implored the United States to put more pressure on the Israeli government, and you did hear President Bush today say, as progress is made toward peace, activities in the settlements, settlements in the occupied territories must end.

Some will say that's not enough. Some will the president should say the settlements must end immediately, but the president there at least putting out there the prospect of leaning on the Sharon government of stopping settlement activity once this map is actually on the table -- Daryn.

KAGAN: John King at the White House. John, thank you very much.

Now I want to go to a man who knows a lot about the Middle East, having served there, former ambassador Joe Wilson joining us this morning.

Mr. Ambassador, good morning. Thanks for being with us.

AMB. JOE WILSON: Hi, Daryn, how are you?

KAGAN: Well, I'm doing fine. What do you make of the announcement from the Rose Garden?

WILSON: It's not just the Arabs who have been worried about the Middle East peace process, it's also the Europeans, and particularly Tony Blair. So I think this will be something that Tony Blair can tell his cabinet justifies his having stood shoulder to shoulder with the president on this Iraq business. He now has a restatement of the president's commitment to the Middle East peace process afterwards.

KAGAN: Let's take a bigger look at the diplomatic picture of what's happening worldwide here, and how this fits into the situation with Iraq and the Middle East. A quote from a senior administration official in the "New York Times" saying, this has not been the United States's finest diplomatic hour in terms of trying to bring together countries and focus on the same things the United States is trying to do.

WILSON: Well, I think that's right. I don't think what the president had to say today is going to sway people that it's necessary to have this total war with Iraq in order to disarm Iraq.

But nonetheless, it will at least bring the Middle East peace process, which is the nagging concern for the region, back on to the front burner.

The problem really is, is who's going to deliver the road map? There is no Middle East negotiator anymore. There have been any number of sages on this issue who have argued for the president devoting the same sort of effort to the Middle East peace process as he devoted to getting 1441 passed, for example.

In other words, a concerted effort to bring both parties back to the table and really hammer out a just and lasting solution. We don't have anybody to do that right now.

KAGAN: If you go back to the beginning of the administration, they were taking a different tack from the Clinton administration and not wanting to go there, let those people figure it out by themselves, is what they were seeming to say when they come came into office.

WILSON: I think there was a tendency to do the un-Clinton thing, and unfortunately, everybody has learned unfortunately if you're not there, that people, parties on both sides, act on their worst nightmares rather than their fondest hopes. You have to be there, you have to be present as a mediating party, even if nothing is happening. Part of diplomacy is really to occupy space and time while the antagonist try to figure out what the next steps will be.

KAGAN: In just a little bit, we will be going into Richard Roth at the United Nations, and so I want to ask you questions about what is taking place there, or what might not take place. Do you think in the end the United States will go for a vote on a second resolution, or it will not?

WILSON: Well, I said yesterday, I did not believe the president when they said they were going to call for a vote, and right after I said it, Secretary Powell said maybe they wouldn't go for a vote. The prudent thing to do would be to pull the resolution if it appears they're not going to get the nine votes. If you have a resolution that is voted down and then you go forward and take the action that has been voted down by the U.N., based on previous resolutions, you may be legally in the right, but politically, you are essentially defying the will of the U.N. Security Council.

So I would argue that unless they have the nine votes, they probably ought to pull the resolution. I suspect that's what they'll do.

KAGAN: Well, just even by suggesting that they might not go for a vote, doesn't that almost make it inevitable that they won't, because if you're one of those small undecided countries, why would you go on the side publicly of the United States and Britain only to be embarrassed and have no vote?

WILSON: I think most of the smaller countries are doing everything they can to duck this. There's an old saying in Africa, and there's three African members, when the elephants fight, it's the grass that gets trampled. And I think they're trying to avoid getting trampled in all of this.

KAGAN: Thank you for your insight. A pleasure to have you with us.

WILSON: Good to be here, Daryn.


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