Israel's Cabinet rejects cease-fire proposal by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, asks for modifications, Reuters reports.
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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Blair Holds News Conference

Aired March 14, 2003 - 11:08   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We'll go right back to London. British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a news conference. Let's listen in.
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: ... this press conference and say to them I'd like to focus on the Middle East particularly, and I will have time -- I'm afraid I've got a telephone call later -- I'll have time for a few questions. But I really want to concentrate on the issue that arises out of the statement by President Bush a short time ago.

I should say to you, too, I've just spoken to the incoming Palestinian prime minister, Abu Mazen, and to Chairman Arafat, following the announcement by President Bush that the Middle East road map is being published as soon as the Palestinian prime minister takes office. I've passed on my congratulations to him. They indicated to me that they were hopeful that he might be able to take office as soon as early next week.

I've always said the most important thing that we can do is to show evenhandedness toward the Middle East. We are right to focus on Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction, but we must put equal focus on the plight of the people whose lives are being devastated by lack of progress in the Middle East peace process -- Israeli civilians who die in acts of terrorism and Palestinians living and dying in appalling conditions of suffering.

This is a vital issue in its own right. I'm pleased that one of the ways we have helped to secure progress today was through the London meeting on Palestinian reform in January. We will continue to provide whatever help we can for Palestinian reform, and I shall continue to use whatever influence we can to make sure that peace talks are started without delay.

I believe the importance of what President Bush announced earlier simply cannot be overstated. Publication of the road map represents the will of the international community to resolve this issue. All parties, I hope, will respond positively and start implementing it without delay, for it provides the route to a permanent two-state solution with clear phases, time lines, target dates and benchmarks, aimed at progress through steps by both sides in all the relevant areas. And the destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005.

Now, this will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, with a Palestinian leadership that acts decisively against terror and builds democracy, and through Israel's readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic and viable Palestinian state to be established.

Of course, we know from our own experience with the Northern Ireland peace process that words are easy but the deeds have to follow. But the prize is enormous, for a settlement, negotiated between the parties, can now result in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel.

That is a cause worth working for. And today, I would like to recommit the efforts of this government to do everything we can to get this process started and up and running.

Thank you very much.

Some questions?

QUESTION: You agree, Prime Minister, that for Palestinians, I think this comes a little too late at this time. And people cannot (UNINTELLIGIBLE) before or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to an unpopular and imminent war.

So why should anyone read the situation any differently now, that there is a commitment from the international community?

BLAIR: Because the most important thing -- I mean, we know there's a great focus on Iraq at the moment, of course there is. But I think the issue that people have always raised with us is, "Show you are even-handed. Tell us that you're prepared to care and work as much for a resolution of the Palestinian issue as you do about the issue of weapons of mass destruction."

Now, today we have the American president committing himself to the publication of the road map. That is what people have sought, that's what people have been working for, that's what people have been arguing for.

And this is a big step forward, because that road map give us the clear phases to come to a comprehensive settlement based on the two- state solution. That's why it's important. And I hope people don't cavil on it, but build on it.

QUESTION: There is still wide concern in the region about the post-Saddam era and about the fact that he might go into exile, and then there will be further problems about his weapons and all that.

Thank you very much.

BLAIR: Well, there are those issues. I mean, I've addressed them on many occasions. I hope you forgive me if, at the moment -- you'll have lots of opportunities to ask me about that in the next few days, I'm sure. But I'd like to concentrate on the Israel-Palestine issue today.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, what reassurance can you give to Israelis, who, whilst they accept there's going to be efforts made by the Palestinians to stop terrorism, have seen 57 foiled attempts at suicide attacks in the last month? What assurances can you give them that the Palestinians will this time be able to deliver?

Second of all, what advice can you give to Israelis who are fearing an attack from Saddam Hussein? What is going to be done to help protect them, should they retaliate?

And finally, did the road map quartet accept any of the requests from Israel for amendments to that road map prior to publication?

BLAIR: Well, the road map will be published, and I think it's right that the Palestinian leadership and the state of Israel receive the road map first before me commenting on the detail of it.

And I would just like to deal with the anxiety of the Israelis, as well, many of whose citizens of the state of Israel have died in appalling and barbaric terrorist acts. as well, who -- many of whose citizens of the state of Israel have died in appalling and barbaric terrorist acts.

But we also have a situation where Palestinians are dying, where there is terrible suffering there.

And the only way that we are going to bring that suffering to an end and these terrible terrorist acts is by having a viable political process leading to a two-state solution and having, also, the security measures in place that allow us to give us the best chance of minimizing the risks from terrorism.

And that's why I've also said that the single most important thing is, as well as obviously condemning the acts of terrorism, is to try and provide a long-term solution, because that, in the end, is the only answer.

QUESTION: Do you think you can achieve peace with the Sharon government?

And my next question, why the road map? What happened to the Prince Abdullah peace initiative, which was blessed by everybody?

BLAIR: Well, of course, the road map is really based upon that concept. I mean, what Crown Prince Abdullah was saying was we needed a solution based on the two states. And what the road map does is give us the details of that.

For example, in phase one, there's obviously got to be the cessation of hostilities, resumption of security cooperation, comprehensive political reform, necessary steps to normalize Palestinian life, the withdrawal from Palestinian areas occupied from September 2000, the freeze on all settlement activity. I mean, there are specifics here that give effect, if you like, to that concept of the two-state solution.

And that's what I think it's so important. I mean, in the end, the only way of dealing with this is to agree to the end objective -- that's the two-state solution -- and then to agree to the steps. And in the road map are the details. That is the solution. That's the way forward. And if we can get people really working on that, then we've got every chance, in my belief, of getting a settlement.

And I think it is vitally important, particularly at this moment, to make sure that people do recognize we are taking our responsibilities to resolve this issue as much as our responsibilities in respect of other things.

I'll take just one last question.

QUESTION: Sir, on that very note, Prime Minister, realistically, how much attention and determination can you actually give to this process at a time like this, when the next weeks and months are going to be dominated by Iraq?

And can you just tell us one word about what you're up to in the Azores on Sunday?

BLAIR: Well, my spokesman will tell you all about that. I mean, I really want to concentrate on this.

The answer to your point is that, yes, we can concentrate on the issue of the Middle East peace process. Over the past few weeks and months, despite all the concentration on Iraq, we've held the meeting about political reform here in London.

We've now got a Palestinian prime minister. When he takes up his office, the road map for peace will be published, and the commitment, not just from myself but from President Bush, is to work in order to make sure that that road map is implemented, that we carry it through and that we actually take the necessary practical steps so that we end up with a viable Palestinian state and a state of Israel confident of its own security, recognized by its Arab neighbors.

Yes, sir? Last one.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, surely you would expect a few people in the Middle East to be a little bit skeptical about the very timing of this initiative in relation to the Iraq issue.

And speaking of assurances, what assurances would you be able to give the Palestinians and Arabs in general that such an extreme right- wing government in Israel would commit itself to any kind of proposal at this very time?

BLAIR: Well, let me just deal with the issue of the timing. I think it's precisely now, when we do have all this focus on the issue of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam and all the things that he has done, it's precisely now that we say to the Arab and Muslim world, "We accept the obligation of even-handedness." We accept that it is right now that we have to say to people that the issue of peace between Palestinians and Israelis is an important as any other issue to us.

And what this road map does is it gives us the practical steps to get there. And yes, of course we have to deal with the two partners in that process, the Palestinian Authority and the state of Israel. But the commitment in the road map are specific steps. They're not just general steps, they're specific steps that we are committed to in order to achieve that two-state solution. And that's the importance of it.

And what I hope people can do is to take this commitment now and hold us to it, you know, make sure that the steps that are set out there are worked through. And for ourselves, I hope you would understand that in these past few months, particularly with the conference here on Palestinian political reform, we have shown that this is not something we take a passing interest in, it's something we are fundamentally committed to.

And it is arising out at the conference here that we managed to get the appointment of Abu Mazen as the Palestinian prime minister. When he takes up his office, the road map is then given to him and the government of Israel, and then we can move it forward.

And it was virtually in this very room that I met the members of the quartet a short time ago, a few weeks ago, and said I would do everything I could to make sure that the road map was indeed the basis of moving forward.

Of course there is a huge focus on Iraq at the moment, there's bound to be. But I think that's the reason why now is the time to say to people, "We are even-handed. We are going to make this commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process."

Because that, I believe -- and you will know this perhaps better than me, but I believe that many people in the Arab and Muslim world detest Saddam, know he is a tyrant and a dictator who has killed many of his own people. Their real criticism of us throughout has been, "Show that you're even-handed. Show that you're also committed to ending the suffering of other people because of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict."

And today we have the commitment the people have asked us to give to the publication of the road map that allows us to get to that two- state solution, an Israeli state confident of its security, a viable Palestinian state.

Thank you very much, everyone.

KAGAN: We've been listening to British Prime Minister Tony Blair with his news conference. He is following up a topic that started just about an hour and a half ago with President Bush out of the White House trying to refocus the world's attention, instead, just for a moment, on Iraq and that situation onto the Palestinian and Israeli crisis, and coming up with a road map and addressing that.

Hearing Tony Blair say that he expects and thinks the world, many in the world expect, an even handedness giving as much weight to the crisis between the Palestinians and the Israelis as has been given, these days, to Iraq.

Want to go ahead and bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who is standing by in Washington, D.C. and go with a question that we heard from that news conference. The timing of this, Bill, being very interesting.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Timing is extremely interesting because it's important for Tony Blair's survival. He has to demonstrate to people who are critical in his own party that he is committed to peace in the Middle East, that the road map to peace is going on, because they are very reluctant to support him on the war in Iraq unless there's something that they want, which is progress toward peace in the Middle East. President Bush talked about it a couple of weeks ago when he gave a speech at a dinner here in Washington. He said ultimately a victory over Saddam Hussein should promote peace in the Middle East, but he didn't talk about the road map of how to get there. Clearly, that is crucial for Tony Blair's political survival.

KAGAN: All right, Bill. I am going to have you stand by. We are going to fit in a quick break, and be back with you after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: A lot of developments on the international scene today. We're going bring back Bill Schneider who's been talking to us from Washington, D.C. These announcements from Tony Blair and President Bush about an hour and a half ago about the road maps, trying to get peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. This comes on eve of what is another surprise for a lot of people and that is a summit that will take place this weekend.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. The countries that support the U.N. resolution are meeting in the Azores this weekend, going to talk about their plans, their strategies, because it now looks like if the U.N. resolution is in serious trouble. It may not even come up for a vote. Are they going to go ahead with the war? Are they going to stick together? And can they help each other, particularly Tony Blair, survive politically? That's going to be a crucial summit meeting among what looks like the remaining coalition of the willing, the four parties there that are going to meet. Those are the four states that support the second U.N. resolution.

KAGAN: All right, we will be tracking that over the weekend. Bill, thank you so much.

Another thing expected to happen over the weekend, a lot of protests both in favor of troops overseas. Also lot of anti-war protests for this weekend. Some have already gotten started. Do we have that picture ready to go? we're working on it. We're getting pictures in from KTVU. This takes place in San Francisco. I believe it's in the downtown financial district, about 100 protesters there. This picture here where you see them seated in a circle was about 20 minutes ago. They have started making some arrests and taking some of those protesters away.

As we mentioned, expecting a number of protests over the weekend. And you'll see coverage of both sides of the issue right here on CNN. Meanwhile, the focus of a lot of action over the last couple weeks, the United Nations, also looking forward, will there be another vote or not.

For more on that, let's bring in Richard Roth from his post at the U.N.

Richard, good morning once again.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn.

The announcement of a three-way summit between the leaders of the U.S., U.K. and Spain certainly are going to overshadow the discussions here, but they do continue. Last evening, the council's divisions once again on display. If anything the positions hardened inside the Security Council. The British were pushing their benchmarks, their disarmament tasks for the Iraqi government. France, Germany and Russia were opposing them rather strongly.

Chile and Mexico, undecided members, were also not unhappy. They think Iraq should be given more time. They have not stated what their position is on the existing resolution on the table.

Nevertheless, here's some comments today from ambassadors regarding the planned Azores Island summit this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GUNTER PLEUGER, GERMAN AMB. TO U.N.: Well, I can't comment, because we are not participating in that meeting. But, of course, we all hope that these three heads of government will find a solution for a peaceful disarmament of Iraq. We would welcome that.

QUESTION: Were others invited?

PLEUGER: Not that I know of.

QUESTION: Do you feel that it would have been best to have been invited, that there really is a need for some heads of states to meet right now?

PLEUGER: I think this is up to the sponsors of that meeting to decide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: That's Germany's ambassador. Germany will either abstain or vote no on a resolution if it gets to the table. The U.S. has raised the distinct possibility that it might not put the matter to a vote.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's ambassador asked about this benchmark proposal still going on, asked whether it was dead or alive. The ambassador said everything is alive until we declare it dead -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right, talk of diplomacy there. What about what we've seen develop over this morning, Richard, the announcement from President Bush and then from Prime Minister Blair about bringing to the forefront the Palestinian/Israeli conflict? Any reaction around the U.N.?

ROTH: Not yet. This is something, one of the dearest dreams of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, he's a member of the quartet, along with Russia, the European Union. He's been pushing for progress there, and he's been uncomfortable by the fact that Iraq dominates every agenda, every world item, and that he thinks the Mideast, if you can solve that, obviously you can make some headway in a lot of other areas there, and he would be pleased with any type of, diplomatic progress, in that zone.

KAGAN: Richard Roth at the U.N. Richard, thank you.

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