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Bush Addresses Terorism in Israel

Aired December 2, 2001 - 11:21   ET


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: You're looking at the Marine One helicopter as it sets to touch down at the White House. Onboard, President George W. Bush cutting short his weekend retreat at Camp David. He is coming in to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. All of these events have been pushed forward by 24 hours because of the wave of terrorism back in Israel. Twenty-eight people in that nation were killed as a result of a number of terrorist attacks in the last 24 hours, and hundreds of other people have been injured.

This was a meeting between the two that was to take place tomorrow. As we say, it is now going to take place around noon Eastern time.

We want to bring in our White House correspondent CNN's Major Garrett, with sort of a look forward as to what this conversation will be like -- Major.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Mary, even before that conversation takes place, President Bush, after exiting Marine One, will come to the podium and make a statement about the wave of violence, the wave of carnage that has struck Israel this weekend. We are told by administration officials the president, in all likelihood, will amplify those statements he made in a written statement issued from Camp David last night, not only condemning the attacks as acts of murder, but saying that they are acts of violence that no cause could conceivably justify.

And this morning senior administration officials have not only reacted to the suicide bombings in Jerusalem, but the most recent attacks in Haifa. They have now asked a question that administration officials have never asked publicly before, which is: Is the Palestinian Authority really in the control, and under the supervision of its chairman, Yasser Arafat? And if not, what in what direction, possibly, can negotiations with the Israelis take?

Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a taped interview that we'll be broadcasting later with Wolf Blitzer on "LATE EDITION," asked that very question. He said: "The suicide bombing attacks this weekend were not only an attack against innocent Israeli civilians, but they were an attack on Mr. Arafat and his Palestinian Authority."

Why does the administration say that so directly now? Well, because the Bush administration, after a good degree of reluctance, has stepped-up its involvement more directly in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; sending two emissaries, William Burns, assistant secretary of state, and retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, to the region on a regular basis to talk with Israelis and Palestinians to try to bridge some of the monumental gaps that have been separating the two sides.

With that increase in more direct U.S. involvement now comes this wave of violence. Now the administration can see no logical reason why that would in any way enhance Mr. Arafat's ability to negotiate or deal credibly with the Israelis.

So now they ask the question: Is he being undermined? Is he even being attacked from within his own authority by these Palestinian militants? It's a crucial question; one the United States does not have the answer to yet. One it's not going to get in this meeting with Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

But, nevertheless, it is the crucial question, as Israel and the United States both try to chart a new course, or at least a course that moves toward dialogue with Israelis and the Palestinians -- Martin.

SAVIDGE: And the real question then becomes: With whom do you negotiate, on the Israeli point of view. And also, who does the U.S. go to, as far as the leadership for the Palestinian Authority.

As we see, the door has opened on Marine One. We are now awaiting the president of the United States. there he is, coming down the stairs. And we anticipate -- we know that he is going to make a statement, and then he goes into the meeting with Ariel Sharon.

Of course, with him, the first lady Laura Bush.

And these are very critical times for the administration, as it works not only with a war in Afghanistan, but also with a situation no that has come to the forefront in the Middle East.

We are anticipating, Major, he is going to come to the microphones, is that correct?

GARRETT: That's every indication we've received from administration officials here. We have been told that he will come to the microphone, make an opening statement, then go straight into the meeting with Mr. Sharon.

As you said, there are two issues here...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In a couple of minutes I'll have the honor of receiving the prime minister from Israel. We obviously changed our schedule because of the horrific acts of murder that took place in his land.

I will tell him that I strongly condemn the acts of murder that killed innocent people in Israel. I will tell him our nation grieves for those whose lives have been affected by the murderers. This is a moment where the advocates for peace in the Middle East must rise up and fight terror. Chairman Arafat must do everything in his power to find those who murdered innocent Israelis and bring them to justice.

Clearly there are some in the world who do not want us to achieve peace in the Middle East. Clearly there are some that, every chance they have, they will use violence and terror to disrupt any progress that's being made. We must not allow them to succeed. We must no allow terror to destroy the chance of peace in the Middle East.

Now is the time for leaders throughout the world who urge there to be a peace to do something about the terror that prevents peace from happening in the first place.

May God bless the Israeli citizens who lost their lives, and their families. Thank you.


SAVIDGE: ... George W. Bush. Garrett, I noted there that he referred to the terrorism attacks as "acts of murder." He said that twice; he used the term "murder" or murderer" at least three times. Clearly this is a president that is deeply troubled by the events he's witnessed here -- Garrett.

GARRETT: Deeply troubled, Martin. And also, you can see a rhetorical effort on the part of President Bush to bring this question of a struggle for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians into one that's now also a struggle against terror. It is no secret that some of the Palestinian militant organizations have been identified by this government and others as terrorist organizations. And it has been an open question for this administration, later on as it wages its war against global terror, do these nations eventually become legitimate targets?

And when the president said, those who seek peace, other leaders around the world, they must do something to wage this war against terror and help bring about peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That is a not-too-subtle reference to other nations within the region who sometimes, in the eyes of the U.S. government, give comfort and aid to these Palestinian militant organizations, you must step up. If you do believe that peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is a worthwhile, achievable goal, then you must do something to control, or at least distance yourself from the activities of these Palestinian militants who the president said clearly, now, are trying to undermine any prospect of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians -- Martin.

SAVIDGE: And as the president has said before a number of times: "You are either for us, or you are against us." Presumably if Chairman Arafat is not able to reign in these terrorist problems, he falls in disfavor. But he also could fall into some sort of -- well, some sort of list that the United States deems as being an enemy.

GARRETT: Well, he falls into disfavor. He might then become a legitimate target for an Israeli reprisal. The sense from the region, both expressed by people on the ground and by senior administration officials, is that the next 48 hours are very crucial, to see not only what words the Palestinian Authority chairman utters, but what actions he take.

And if, in fact, there are concrete, substantive, in some ways risky actions that the Palestinian chairman takes against various Palestinian militant organizations, it might breed at least some small degree of confidence, not only here at the Bush White House, but among the Israeli government that, in fact, Mr. Arafat is making a maximum effort to not only confront those organizations within the Palestinian movement who are causing these acts of violence, but trying to snuff them out or at least snuff out those who are perpetrating the violence.

Absent that, it's a very open question, Martin, where the Israeli Government can go, where the U.S. Government can go, in dealing with the Palestinian movement.

SAVIDGE: Major, how much of this is, or how great a distraction is this, a legitimate one for the president as he obviously focuses on Afghanistan, and yet now must deal with this crisis that has literally exploded in the Middle East?

GARRETT: Well a distraction is a word the Bush White House doesn't like to, let's see what word should I use, embrace or acknowledge openly.

They say the president is always very focused on each and every task at hand, and clearly Mission No. 1 for this president, he said it over and over again, is the ongoing campaign, the military campaign in Afghanistan.

Of course, the administration very much involved with U.N. representatives in the talks in Bonn, Germany about creating a broad- based government in Afghanistan, to get that nation at least on a path toward reconciliation and development. That's a big issue.

Obviously the administration has stepped up its involvement in the Middle East, in part in response to some advice, counsel, dare I even say pressure from moderate Arab nations to get more directly and explicitly and publicly involved in this peace process.

Now comes this wave of violence. Some of the administration might fairly ask themselves, well what good was it for us to get involved now when we see this type of violence?

So again, it all rebounds to the central question, can Chairman Arafat do the kinds of things the U.S. now expects, the Israeli Government expects and if not, in which direction does that government, the Israeli government and the U.S., which has now taken a direct and more personal involvement in this, go in trying to resolve the very deep crisis between Israelis and the Palestinians? Martin.

SAVIDGE: Major Garrett, thank you very much from the White House. Make no mistake, there is a lot at stake for the United States here. We want to get a sense from the region. For that, we go to Jerusalem and CNN's Jerrold Kessel, who is there. Jerrold, your reaction first of all to the comments of the president. Have you heard them? JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Martin, I think very interestingly, subtly stated, without using that cliche of moment of truth, this was the president laying it on Yasser Arafat that this is his moment of truth.

The Israelis perhaps would have liked it to be stated a little more forthrightly that the challenges there to Yasser Arafat, as Major Garrett was saying, for him to prove not only when he says he'll make that 100 percent effort, that he'll give the 100 percent effort and now that he'll give even more, that he will actually go out there and curb the militants, curb the Palestinian militants.

And this really does seem to be the moment that Yasser Arafat is facing, to prove to the United States and to the Israelis, to the world really, that he is going to face up to that moment of truth.

But I think we face the complication here of a time table. Major Garret spoke there of a 48 hours, which the United States officials see as the critical moment. Perhaps there isn't that 48 hours, because the Israelis have been shocked.

They've been battered by the series of suicide bombings, and there's a lot of pressure on this government of Ariel Sharon, even though he isn't here and he's about the meet the president there in Washington, to act, to act fiercely, to act forthrightly against Yasser Arafat, whether or not the Palestinian Authority takes action against the militants or not. Martin.

SAVIDGE: Jerrold, the president used the term "moment" in his statement there. In diplo-speak that is always considered to be somewhat of a pivotal word because it highlights this is an exact situation of the moment that we're in, and it does seem to be that way.

One of the things that has to be of concern for the president is, what is the Israeli response going to be? Any indication of that?

KESSEL: Well, we've heard as I say, a lot of people in the Israeli political community, within the Sharon government, from you could say within his own party in the center-right to the far right, insisting Yasser Arafat is not a partner.

It's wishful thinking to believe he ever can become a partner. Go after the Palestinian Authority. See where the chips will fall if you go after Yasser Arafat. Don't give him that extra chance.

The question is, will Ariel Sharon go along with that idea that seemed to be suggested by the president there, by his envoy Mr. Zinni, a retired Marine General Anthony Zinni over the last day in saying, this is the time for Yasser Arafat to prove.

There is and let's not forget another element in the Israeli government, that on the center left, spearheaded by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who would go along to a degree with the Palestinian line, that it can't all be solved by addressing the question of the violence and the terror alone. There has to be a political dimension. The big question, does Ariel Sharon give that attitude a chance, or does he go down the line of saying "no, the pressure is on Arafat. He needs to deliver on the security issue and he needs to deliver now." Big questions over the next day or so.

SAVIDGE: There certainly are. When he is finished with his meeting with the president, the prime minister will travel back to Israel. We questioned the leadership capability of Yasser Arafat. What is the political situation that Ariel Sharon will come back to?

KESSEL: Yes, he's got a complex situation. He has, as I say, looking over his shoulder to the far right and a possibility of losing that far right and perhaps the central element in his coalition, where people have been saying "if you don't act against Arafat now forthrightly, you can't have our support." There are people out there who say enough is enough. You have to act against Arafat, enough of these promises.

On the other hand, there are those who say "look to a political avenue and try to shepherd Mr. Sharon along with that political avenue, alongside" -- and nobody is making that fierce demand of Yasser Arafat to take strong action against the militants, but alongside that, they're saying we also need to be going down in the search for getting back to the peace talks, to the negotiations. That's the key question that Mr. Sharon will be facing.

He is in a difficult political situation. He could lose either flank of his government if he doesn't play it right, but on the basis of things, he has the majority of the people of Israel behind him. He has consistently got a good deal of public support behind him, even though the situation and security level has gone from worse to worse, and that from a man who promised above all, who considers himself above all, Mr. Security. Martin.

SAVIDGE: Jerrold Kessel. These have been difficult hours. They have been very bloody hours in Israel over the past 24. The next 24 could be extremely decisive. Our thanks to Jerrold Kessel, reporting to us live from Jerusalem. Also to Major Garrett, who is joining us live from the White House.




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