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Conflict in the Middle East: Former Sen. George Mitchell Discusses Report on Peace in Israel

Aired May 21, 2001 - 10:50   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: Heading up a U.S. peace commission, former Sen. George Mitchell just announced, moments ago, the results of his findings in the Mitchell report, calling on Israelis and Palestinians to end the violence in Middle East.

Our Richard Roth joins the former senator, live in New York, with this exclusive one-on-one interview -- Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Sen. Mitchell, thanks for joining us, after your press conference.

What do you hope your report accomplishes?

GEORGE MITCHELL, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: We hope very much that the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will implement its recommendations: an immediate and unconditional end to violence, a series of steps to rebuild confidence during a cooling-off period, and then a resumption of meaningful and serious negotiation.

ROTH: Your colleague on the panel, former Sen. Rudman said that he foresees an incredibly large conflagration in the region, should the violence not stop. Do you share this warning?

MITCHELL: I think he said it's unpredictable, and no one knows for sure what's going to occur, but everyone, I believe, should be deeply concerned about the recent escalation and the prospect of further escalation. I think Sen. Rudman was sounding a warning signal that the parties and all interested -- the United States government, the United Nations, the European Union, and others -- would be wise to heed.

ROTH: Based upon your contacts with U.S. Secretary of State Powell, how is the Bush administration going to use your report as a way, perhaps, of jump-starting talks?

MITCHELL: Secretary Powell will be making a statement shortly, and I think it's only appropriate and courteous for me to defer to him and permit him to make his statement as he sees fit. But I do know, from talking to him several times over the past few weeks, including this morning, that he's very fully engaged, and I hope will use the report, and other suggestions, as ways to accomplish the important objectives. It doesn't really matter whether it's our report or someone else's report; what matters is that the violence be ended and that the sides get back to negotiation.

ROTH: Did you lose hope, in preparation of this report and seeing the last few days of violence, regarding the future for the Mideast?

MITCHELL: I've never lost hope because I don't believe there's any such thing as conflict that can't be ended. As horrible as it has been, I believe that the majority of people on both sides want to live in peace.

ROTH: For people who may not be following the Mideast intensely and are looking to your report for some facts and fact-finding, who's at fault in what's happened there, Israel or the Palestinians?

MITCHELL: We did not attempt to assess blame. We were specifically asked not to do so in the mandate creating our committee. Rather, we tried to be constructive and forward looking: to make recommendations that the parties could use on a practical basis to get back to negotiation and to end the violence.

ROTH: Did Ariel Sharon's a visit to the Temple Mount and other holy sites provoke the Palestinian attacks, or were they already planned, according to your fact-finding?

MITCHELL: We concluded that there were no such plans, and we concluded that Sharon's visit did not cause the intifada.

ROTH: What do you propose regarding the settlements that Israel thinks it's their inherent right to continue or to grow?

MITCHELL: We have suggested, as one of several confidence building measures, that the government of Israel should freeze all settlement activity.

ROTH: This is something in the report with which they do not agree, that they've commented on, correct?

MITCHELL: That's correct. The Palestinian Authority doesn't agree with other aspects of the report, but we think that this is a basis for going forward.

We pointed out in our report that the United States is a very strong and close supporter and ally of Israel, yet even in the best of relationships, there are differences of opinion, and every American administration -- and we cited specifically President Jimmy Carter, President Ronald Reagan, President George Bush, President Bill Clinton, and the present administration under George Bush -- all have opposed the policies and actions of the government of Israel with respect to settlements. We cited specifically President Ronald Reagan's statement, made 20 years ago, that the most effective step to rebuilt confidence would be an immediate freeze on settlements.

ROTH: You spent two years brokering an accord regarding Northern Ireland. Would you or your commission agree to go to the Middle East, if asked? MITCHELL: The members of the committee would do anything asked to be of assistance, but that, of course, is a decision for the parties, for the United States government, and for others involved.

ROTH: You said recently that the violence in the Middle East in last few days, as your report was being printed, serves as, what, a reminder, a means to act -- what does this mean?

MITCHELL: It adds urgency to our appeal for an end to violence. This escalation has been truly dramatic: Dozens of people were killed, and scores were injured over just the last few days. This escalation is extremely dangerous. Both leaders said to us, on our most recent visit, that life for their people had become unbearable, and that must end.

The violence must end. Death and destruction will not solve the problems of the Middle East; negotiation is the only path to peace, justice and security.

ROTH: How would you rebuild the confidence? You say it's shattered.

MITCHELL: It will take time. First and foremost must be an immediate and unconditional cessation of violence. Then we recommend a whole series -- more than a dozen -- of specific confidence building measures that each side can take.

We say in our report these steps -- the timing and sequence of them -- are, obviously, crucial, and can be decided only by the parties, and we don't link one step to another. What we say is they've got to get about the process now of ending the violence: Establish a cooling-off period, take steps that will mutually rebuild confidence, and then resume negotiations.

ROTH: Sen. George Mitchell -- the leader of the fact-finding committee asked for by the United States and agreed to by the parties -- reaction is now beginning to come in from all sides -- thank you very much for appearing here.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Richard.

ROTH: Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, Richard. Once again, that's our Richard Roth, with an exclusive one-on-one interview with former Sen. Mitchell.

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