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U.N. Briefing on Mideast Crisis

Aired September 26, 2003 - 11:19   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: For now, we are going to go to New York for some extra coverage right now. We understand there's a press conference under way at the United Nations. You see Secreteary- General Kofi Annan, he is there, and so is U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
KOFFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: The Quartet looks forward to continuing to work closely together as well as an association with regional parties, to help achieve progress between Israelis and Palestinians as well as toward the goal of a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East. To this end, they hope to meet again at principals' level before the end of the year.

I would now like to say a few words and share my own thoughts on the current situation in the Middle East. This is not a Quartet statement. This is my own words.

I am alarmed at the trend toward increasing violence and ever- greater suffering among Israelis and Palestinians. The two parties seem unable to find their way out of the current quagmire without outside help. The international community, represented by the Quartet, has presented the parties with a road map toward peace. Unfortunately, both of the parties have failed to take steps along this road and the international community has been unable to induce the parties to move ahead.

The fragile peace process remains stalled. But facts on the ground are being created which make the vision of two states even more difficult to achieve.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the entire international community that the only alternative to the two-state solution is long- term conflict and instability.

It seems to me that bold steps, in keeping with the road map, are now necessary to salvage peace. Small steps have not worked. They are unlikely to work in the future. Such actions should simultaneously address the core needs of both parties: security for Israelis and an end to occupation for the Palestinians. They should be firmly supported by an international presence.

Bold steps cannot be taken without consent of the parties. Equally, the current, dangerous impasse can only be broken through a revitalized and active international involvement. I urge the international community to help the parties to show that their responsibilities to their peoples. If these steps are not taken, I believe that all of us will pay a heavy price.

Thank you very much. The floor is now open for questions.

QUESTION: Thank you. My question goes to the secretary of state.

Sir, there have been three times as many Palestinian casualties in this latest round of the conflict as Israeli. Israel engages in illegal activities, such as extra-judicial assassinations, and is now building a wall that is illegally swallowing Palestinian lands. Yet we constantly hear from Washington that the lion's share of the blame for this conflict belongs to Mr. Arafat.

In many corners of the world, there is a growing perception that the USA is not neutral in this conflict. And some have suggested that this perceived bias encourages terrorism and thus ultimately endangers American security.

QUESTION: I wonder how you respond to such criticism.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think we have tried to show, by our actions and by our support of a road map and by the position the president took at Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba, that we want to be a partner with both sides, bringing them together to find a way forward.

The road map put down reciprocal obligations for both sides. And we did see some initial movement on that road map, with Israel restraining itself with respect to targeted assassinations, to ticking bombs coming its way, with the beginning of the destruction of illegal outposts, clear understanding that something had to be done and the president expected something to be done about settlement activity, the initial beginnings of prisoners releases, opening of Gaza and Bethlehem to security control by the Palestinians and more cities were being prepared to be turned over.

So there were some beginning efforts on the road map that made it clear that the United States was encouraging Israel and putting pressure on Israel to meet its obligations.

On the Palestinian side, the major obligation, the bold step that is needed is to end terror activity. It becomes very difficult to move forward and to expect either side to move forward if it is against a backdrop of continued terror on the part of organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad that do not have the same purpose that the international community does -- the United States certainly has -- of a creation of two states to live side by side in peace: the state of Israel which exists and the Palestinian state which the president has called for by the year 2005, should that be possible.

But Hamas and PIJ don't want that. They don't want Israel to exist. And as long as they keep operating in that matter and Palestinians do not organize themselves in the way to deal with this continuing terrorist threat, we will find ourselves continually frustrated. But the United States is prepared to play the role of a open, honest broker, pressing both sides to meet the obligations and commitments that they have made and have under the road map.

HARRIS: A press conference which is being held at the United Nations. You see there representatives of the so-called quartet, the European Union, the United Nations, the United States, and Russia. They are talking there about the apparent crisis situation with the so-called road map to peace. That road map which is now, as we heard the secretary of the general of the U.N. say, has pretty much been stalled. The fragile process is still stalled, he says, and emerging facts on the ground now, are making the existence of two states in that region harder to achieve. Small steps have not worked, and now actions must address the core needs of both parties, and we just heard there U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell saying those needs are not being met.


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