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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Zinni to Leave Middle East

Aired December 15, 2001 - 10:44   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: We're actually going to take it back to Kelly Wallace, our CNN White House correspondent. She's there with some breaking news, I understand, with regard to Israel -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kyra. Well, it's a move that was somewhat expected. We have learned that the U.S. envoy to the Middle East -- retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, who has been in the region for almost three weeks now -- that he is being asked to leave the region and return to Washington for consultations.

The State Department issuing a release, saying that Secretary Powell has asked General Zinni to come back to Washington to consult with him and the president in light of the recent events in the region, to determine how to proceed and how to move on.

An important point, though, that a senior administration official is pointing out, saying in the statement, quote: "General Zinni will remain engaged, and return to the region." Senior officials say by no means does General Zinni's departure from the region and return to Washington indicate that the U.S. will not remain engaged -- that it will be engaged on the ground in the region, and also via telephone and other ways of contact with the Israelis and the Palestinians.

This move, though, coming, Kyra, after the administration has continued to press Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to do more, to crack down on suspected terrorists. And as the Israelis have said, they believe that Mr. Arafat is irrelevant, and that they are taking steps now to go after Palestinian targets and crack down as much as they can on suspected terrorists as well.

The statement says that "ending the ongoing terror and violence is the top priority for the U.S., but major challenges remain, which both the Israelis and Palestinians will have to overcome. The U.S. is committed to help the two sides end the violence and return to a political process. We will remain engaged with Israel and the Palestinian Authority in working towards a durable cease-fire."

Kyra, as you know, General Zinni, when he went to the region he said that he would remain there until he was able to put together a cease-fire. But he was in the region just days, and then there was that suicide bombing -- bombings, rather. More than two dozen Israelis killed. And then the events have really spiralled and gotten worse since then. So General Zinni returning to Washington for consultations. The word from the administration is the U.S. will remain engaged, and General Zinni will return at some later date -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Kelly, just quickly before you go, is this a confirmed safety concern?

WALLACE: A confirmed safety concern for General Zinni?

PHILLIPS: Yes.

WALLACE: No, no. The sense that we are getting is it is more of a sense of how does the U.S. proceed. General Zinni obviously had been meeting with the Israelis and the Palestinians, and then had left those meetings and was consulting with Arab allies in Jordan and Egypt to try to encourage the Arab allies to put more pressure on the Palestinian leader.

So the sense is the United States wants Zinni to come back here to get a sense of where things are right now and where the U.S. can go from here. You've heard the administration putting pressure on the Palestinian leader. It is not satisfied about what is happening. You have the Israelis taking matters into their own hands.

And so the administration clearly wanting to do an assessment about what the next steps should be -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Kelly Wallace -- that breaking news live there from the White House. Thank you very much.

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