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Yasser Arafat Opts Out of Arab Summit

Aired March 26, 2002 - 15:46   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.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Reporting the same news we gave you about 35 minutes ago: CNN confirming that Yasser Arafat will not travel to Beirut for the Arab summit. That begins there tomorrow. This follows up a call from the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak earlier today. He says he will not go, but a representative will be sent from Egypt as well.

Let's get to Beirut straight away now and CNN's Brent Sadler, who now joins us.

And wondering, Brent, about the implications. What are the waves rippling through Beirut, given the news that Yasser Arafat will not be there?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, there was no real surprise that Mr. Arafat would decide not to attend this summit. There was some amazement, some surprise certainly when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said that he was not coming, his appearance -- or, rather, nonappearance here, being reported by Arab commentators here, certainly tied up with the whole issue of Arafat not attending.

Mr. Arafat's senior aide has announced that he is not coming just a short time ago on CNN. And already, even before that announcement was made, it was pretty clear from the Palestinian delegation in Beirut that Mr. Arafat would not come, because they said they had made in advance teleconferencing facilities between Mr. Arafat's West Bank headquarters and Ramallah and the conference center in that hotel complex you can see behind me there.

So whether or not he is here -- we now know he is not definitely -- the Palestinian president will, we understand, still be addressing the summit leaders, the Arab heads of state when they gather here tomorrow, Wednesday, to talk, very dramatically, it will be, from the West Bank to the delegation here -- Palestinians in the delegation here saying that their leader, effectively, is a prisoner, because, as we know, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that this is not the time; the time is not right for Mr. Arafat to come and attend the summit -- Mr. Arafat jumping the gun perhaps and saying quite clearly that he is not coming.

But he will still be seen and heard via video link to this conference. So that will be a very dramatic appearance indeed -- Bill, back to you. HEMMER: Brent, listen. There is an image here shaping in a lot of people's minds, let's say the physical fact that Yasser Arafat will not be there may speak a whole lot in terms of a symbol to the rest of the Arab countries attending this summit. Given that, though, how is the agenda there likely to change. Can you gauge that yet?

SADLER: Well, I don't the agenda itself will change. They're here, the Arab heads of state, to endorse a final document which envisages the idea, the plan of an exchange of peace, an exchange of land for peace, an Israeli withdrawal from land occupied since 1967 in exchange for normal relations with the Arab world. That's the fundamental principle of the Saudi initiative.

That will certainly be built upon vis-a-vis Palestinian refugees, a right to return home as per U.N. Resolution 194 and other issues, specifically the Golan Heights to be included in that, which is a key Syrian demand.

So, certainly, the principles of the summit, while they're gathering here, will be maintained. But, of course, the symbolism of Mr. Arafat talking here via video link is going to be very important in terms of trying to persuade world opinion as far as Palestinians are concerned that Mr. Arafat really is a prisoner within his own state, the state that he envisages, if you like.

So they will certainly play on that issue. But, in terms of the summit itself, that will go ahead. The delegations will continue. Heads of states will be still working that final draft document. But the nonappearance of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader, here, certainly does also throw another spanner in the works -- Bill?

HEMMER: Brent, thank you. Just about 11:00 local time there in Beirut, Lebanon. Again, that summit will begin tomorrow, Wednesday in Beirut. Brent Sadler, our bureau chief there in Beirut with the latest.

Yasser Arafat not there in person, but, by way of technology, he will attend and, apparently, given the report from Brent, will make a speech.

We will keep a close eye on that as the Arab summit convenes tomorrow.

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