Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS


Bush Comments on Yasser Arafat

Aired April 1, 2002 - 11:33   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have some tape coming in from the White House. President Bush meeting earlier today with New York governor George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. And during that meeting, he allowed cameras in, and made some extensive comments on U.S. involvement in the Middle East. Let's listen in.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have just informed the governor and the mayor -- the governor of New York and the mayor of New York City -- that the federal government will transfer Governor's Island to the people of New York.

I'll never forget choppering (ph) over Governor's Island with George and Rudy Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg's predecessor, and the two leaders talking about what good use Governor's Island could be put to.

Since that time, I've studied the statements of Mayor Bloomberg, who extensively talked about Governor's Island and how to improve Governor's Island and how to make it a center of educational excellence, something dear to George Pataki's heart.

I looked at the law, looked at the circumstances, and decided this morning that this is the right thing for the U.S. government and that it's the right thing for the people of New York.

I appreciate so very much the vision of these two leaders. And I appreciate their heartfelt concern for the citizens of New York City and the region.

And so, I want to welcome to the Oval Office, with this piece of news -- George, why don't you say a few words.

PATAKI: Mr. President, first, on behalf of the people of New York, thank you. This is great news for New York.

For decades, New Yorkers have sought to have control over Ellis -- over Governor's Island, so we could use it in an intelligent way to advance the interests of New Yorkers.

And now you're doing it, and I remember very well that flight and the helicopter on that very sad and emotional day and how you took the interest in Governor's Island. And Mr. President, we have said to you that we're going to bring back lower Manhattan stronger than it was on September 11, with the resources you've provided, with having kept your word on what you're going to do for New York, and now going beyond that, to transfer Ellis Island -- Governor's Island to the people of New York, I tell you it's just a tremendous thing.

And Mike and I had the chance Friday afternoon to go over and tour Governor's Island, and we have a vision as to a bold educational use for that island that will be tremendous for the people of New York, for the schoolchildren of New York.

And Mr. President, again thank you. You have done more for New York than I believe any president in memory.

BLOOMBERG: Mr. President, thank you so much for this. I think not only is it a commitment to New York, but it is a commitment to education. You have a right to claim to be the education president as much as anybody in modern memory. I think the governor's been phenomenally supportive of education throughout New York State and been very helpful to New York City.

It is my big concern. We need more trained teachers. We need more classrooms. We need to improve our university system. This will allow us to do all three by putting part of City University, one of the flagships of New York, over on Governor's Island. That will free- up space so that we can solve some of our space problems throughout the public school system, where we have just too big class sizes for the children's good.

The governor has, for a long time, tried to do something to reduce class sizes. We've never had the space before. This will go to ameliorate that problem to a great extent. It will let us focus on teacher training. It will let us focus on smaller class sizes. It will improve our City University and the public school system where we educate America's future.

So on behalf of the governor and I, thank you. You could not make a bigger impact, I don't think, on America going forward than you can by this gesture, and we will use it wisely.

BUSH: I know you will. Thanks.

Be glad to answer a few questions.

QUESTION: Mr. President, what specifically would you like for Chairman Arafat to do -- what specific actions you'd like him to take in the Middle East? And in light of the current situation in Israel, does the Bush doctrine (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Well, first of all, there will never be peace so long as there's terror, and all of us must fight terror. And you asked about Chairman Arafat. I'd like to see Chairman Arafat denounce the terrorist activities that are taking place, the constant attacks.

We've got a plan that will lead to peace; the security plan called Tenet, the political plan called Mitchell. Both sides have agreed to this plan. And we urge the parties to accept the Tenet plan so that we can bring a peaceful resolution to an issue that's affecting the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike. There's a lot of innocent people who hurt in the region because of the senseless violence and senseless murder.

QUESTION: Mr. President, I have a follow-up. Under your doctrine, a terrorist or someone who aids a terrorist is the equivalent of a terrorist. So what's keeping you from labeling Chairman Arafat a terrorist?

BUSH: Well, Chairman Arafat has agreed to a peace process. He's agreed to the Tenet plan. He's agreed to the Mitchell plan. He has negotiated with parties as to how to achieve peace, and, of course, our hope is that he accepts the Tenet plan. That's what General Zinni is in the Middle East doing, working to get this Tenet agreement in place which is a series of concrete steps to reduce the violence in the Middle East.


BUSH: You know, they must have not been with me in Crawford when I was on the phone all morning long talking to world leaders.

We've just come from a National Security Council meeting where Colin Powell was recounting his phone conversations. We've got General Zinni in the region, we've got a Tenet plan, a Mitchell plan, a road map to what will be a peaceful resolution to this issue.

I hope that the world community will continue to condemn terror and if they haven't condemned terror yet, start condemning terror. It's essential for the peace of the region and the world that we rout out terrorist activities, that we condemn those activities. Suicide bombers, in the name of religion, is simple terror. And the free world, the civilized world must band together to stop this kind of activity if we expect there to be peace and resolution in the Middle East.

Yes? Last question.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) said that you believe Chairman Arafat needs to do much more. Do you believe that Prime Minister Sharon is doing all he can to foster peace in the region?

BUSH: I think it's very important for the prime minister to keep a pathway to peace opened. To understand that on the one hand Israel should protect herself, and on the other hand there ought to be a pathway, a capacity, to achieve a peaceful resolution to this issue. It's important for Israel to understand that. They've signed onto the Tenet agreement, and they've signed onto the Mitchell Plan, and that is the pathway to peace. And I believe Prime Minister Sharon still accepts Tenet and still accepts Mitchell as the way to achieve a peaceful resolution.

I was very heartened a couple of weeks ago by the Saudi Arabia crown prince when he talked about the need for the Arab world to recognize Israel's right to exist. It was a positive development. There were some positive things that were taking place in the region until the terrorist suicide bombers started killing innocent people.

QUESTION: Why give the (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Why now, right this second?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) And also would this in any way help Governor Pataki in his re-election?

BUSH: Oh, well listen. He doesn't need my help to get re- elected for starters. He's got a great record. The people of New York are discerning voters. Well, most of the time they're discerning voters.


You know what I mean.


Well, you're a smart guy. Read between the lines.

No, George Pataki has been a great governor for New York. I made the announcement today because I had finished the necessary study of the issue to make sure that we could transfer this property without congressional action, and I believe I can do that. It took a while to look at it. It also requires -- I wanted to make sure that the governor and mayor would be using this property for education purposes.

That's what the mayor said he would. The governor said he wanted to do that. They took a look at it and decided this is what they wanted to do, and it makes a lot of sense to me. And using it for education purposes will make it easier for me to facilitate the transfer, by the way.

STAFF: Thank you all very much.



BUSH: Well, I took a look at it. I mean, that's a good question.

I took a look at it. I listened to what George said. He's my friend. I trust his judgment. I've known him for a long time and Rudy Giuliani, as well. Both of them were passionate in their appeal for us to consider transferring Governor's Island. I knew Mike was very interested in enhancing the quality of education in New York City. And I took a look at it.

And I came back -- obviously, things didn't happen quickly after September the 15 trip because we had a lot on our mind. But it took a while to work it through the White House staff and it arrived on my desk sometime last week. And the recommendation was that we could transfer this property if that's what I wanted to do. And it's something I want to do because I think it's going to make the life of a city that has been tragically affected by killers and murders better, and I think it'll enhance the quality of education for the people of New York. And to me that is a worthwhile and noble cause.


KAGAN: Well, we have been listening to some tape coming in to us from the White House. That was President Bush. He is meeting today with New York Governor George Pataki and also New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg visiting him. Some news that was interesting to folks in New York City, but to those of us across the country and around the world, even more important. News coming out of the White House today about Middle East policy, and we heard the president talk about some of that, basically saying that U.S. Envoy Anthony Zinni, Major, is just fine right now, as far as far as President Bush is concerned, in terms of U.S. involvement, and Colin Powell is not packing his things and heading over to try to settle down things in the Middle East.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Daryn. Anthony Zinni, the president's personal envoy, will remain the point person for President Bush and his entire administration in the region. A couple of nuances worth pointing out here, Daryn.

As the administration continues to adjust its message, there is no other word to describe it. On Saturday, the president very condemnatory of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Today, much more soft and muted in his criticism of the Palestinian chairman. At one point, he said the acts of suicide bombers are simple terror.

Nevertheless, the administration doesn't have any simple answers in how to cope with it or how to deal with it. Part of that can be found in the fact that the president made it clear with the Bush Doctrine, which condemns all acts of terrorism on a global stage, and puts the United States military on watch of all axes of terror, does not apply in the Middle East because the Israelis and the Palestinians are continuing to negotiate about a cease-fire.

So the Bush Doctrine applies everywhere but the Middle East, at least as it relates to the Israelis and the Palestinians. And that suggests that when the president condemns Yasser Arafat and says he can do more, on the one hand, to stop terrorism, he is also an active in apparently constructive negotiations to achieve a cease-fire. So, on the one hand, he is to blame, at least inferentially, for causing suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians.

On the other hand, he is an active and constructive participant in cease-fire talks. The administration knows it is hard at times for the public to weigh both of these, and understand both of these somewhat conflicting messages, but they are trying to deal with a situation where they want to maintain open channel for the Palestinians, make sure no harm comes to Yasser Arafat.

On the other side, say the Israeli government has a right to defend itself. But as the president said, they need to keep a pathway open to peace, and as Israeli Defense Forces continue move into other sections of the occupied territories, it is harder and harder find a pathway to peace. More often, it is a pathway to more military action -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Major Garrett at the White House. Thank you for helping to understand that tape that we just watched, coming out of the White House.




Back to the top