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President Bush to Send Colin Powell to Mideast

Aired April 4, 2002 - 11:44   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now to our lead international story, and that is word, once again, that Secretary of State Colin Powell will head to the Middle East next week.

Our Kelly Wallace was there at the White House as the president made that announcement and has even more details for us now.

Kelly, hello once again.


You know, reporters shouting questions at the president. The president not responding. One question certainly is, why is he making this move now? Why deciding now to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region next week. The president not answering, but really a quote that we've all been using. The president saying -- quote -- "Enough is enough."

Clearly this administration seeing the situation deteriorate, in the president's words, on the ground, as you, Daryn, have been discussing all morning, the administration under increasing pressure from Arab allies, from lawmakers in the United States, even really within the administration to do something, also increasing pressure.

We got some indication from Secretary Powell in interviews he did last night to be discussing the political issues, the issue of a Palestinian state, which the president talked about, the issues of Israeli settlements, issues of borders for a future Palestinian state. All these issues many believe very important to be discussing now in to get the two sides back to some type of cease-fire and security arrangement.

Again, though, really one of the month dramatic things coming from the president is really saying to the Israelis to halt, going into any more Palestinian areas and to begin to withdraw.

For the first time, really, the president coming forward with this. Up until now, he has said that Israel has a right to defend itself against acts of terror. Let's listen first what the president said, delivering this message to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Israel faces hard choices of its own. Its government has supported the creation of a Palestinian state that is not a haven for terrorism. Yet Israel also must recognize that such a state needs to be politically and economically viable. Consistent with the Mitchell Plan, Israeli settlement activity and occupied territories must stop.


WALLACE: The president also calling on the Israelis to really do some things to ease the plight of the Palestinian people, allowing them to move more freely across the region, easing the situation of closures. The president also, though, had a message for the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and, Daryn, in your interview with chief Palestinian leader Saeb Erakat, he obviously wasn't too happy with this, the president clearly saying that the Palestinian leader must do more, must disrupt the financing of terrorists, must really go out there publicly and condemn terrorist activities, not glorify any of the suicide bombings.

Here is the message the president had for the Palestinian leader.


BUSH: The situation in which he finds himself today is largely of his own making. He's missed his opportunities, and thereby betrayed the hopes of the people he is supposed to lead.


WALLACE: Now, the president's move here is definitely going to be met with criticism. Conservatives in the United States will be very, very angry, believing the president really should isolate Yasser Arafat, believing he is a terrorist, that he should in fact be eliminated, and that president should not be negotiating with him at all. But clearly, the decision made, Daryn, to have the secretary go there next week. We know President Bush made a couple of phone calls this morning. We are still trying to find out who he talked to, other people in the White House reaching out. You can assume most likely to many Arab allies, likely to be to the Egyptians, the Saudi Arabian, the Jordanian leaders.

The president, though, also calling on these Arab leaders to get involved, and clearly expressing concern that this conflict could widen, definitely putting Iran, Iraq and Syria on notice as well -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Kelly, I know you addressed the timing issue in terms of why now, but also, why wait? If the urge is so big to get Secretary of State Powell there, why wait until next week? Any information on that?

WALLACE: That is a good question. I heard you and Andrea discussion it as well. We'll try and find out. Obviously, we know of course the secretary does have some travel plans already scheduled next week. He is going to the region. There is also something else important, Daryn. One official I talked to said, you know, so far, this is probably the third day where you haven't had a suicide bombing, so you could possibly see the administration wanting to make sure that situation continues before the secretary goes there.

Again, we really don't know. It may just a logistical thing, waiting for the secretary to kind of loop that in with his travel next week, but we're trying to get the answer to that -- Daryn.

KAGAN: We'll cut you loose so you can get some more interesting information. Kelly Wallace, thank you so much from the White House. As you heard Kelly and I talking about, I did have a chance to talk with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and get the Palestinian view of what the president had to say, and we're still waiting to hear from the Israelis. We hear from Ariel Sharon's spokesman Ranaan Gissin, that they are currently reviewing President's Bush's statement and working on their reply. So as soon as Ranaan Gissin is available, we will be talking to him live here on CNN.

Right now, let's go back live to the Middle East. My colleague Bill Hemmer is standing by in Jerusalem -- Bill.

HEMMER: Yes, Daryn, the question right now is, what does the Israeli government do? What does the military do? How do they react from this address from the president? Really for seven days running right now, the White House has essentially said that it understands what the Israeli government wants to do, that is they say to go into these West Bank towns and clear out what they consider suspected terrorists and suspected terrorist group members.

And, listen, that, operation continues as we speak. In fact, just in the past hour, we've heard of continued fighting in Nablus. We heard about shelling in Jenin, all of these various West Bank towns where the Israelis military has moved into in these past seven days time. Specifically, Daryn, we can show you some videotape from a number of different places, some aerial pictures from Hebron, some pictures from Nablus. Again, last night, Nablus, the most populated town in the West Bank, took in about 200 Israeli tanks and more than about 100,000 people living inside that town alone.

And again, all this continues as we speak, and the question now is, what does the Israeli military do? Because there has been so many calls publicly from all over the world for something to put pressure on the Israeli government, to basically end its current operation. But the White House has defended it, essentially, and at this point, what do they do? What do they say to President Bush? That's something we will have to wait and see. But clearly, the conflict is still raging in many parts at this point -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Bill Hemmer in Jerusalem. Bill, thank you. We will be checking back with you as reaction comes back in. We want to bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider, who was with us before the president made his comments.

And, Bill, as I said, we are standing by waiting to hear comments from the Israeli government, but I think much can be read into their lack of immediate response. Much of what the president said, I would imagine, is not too pleasing to the Israeli government.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the gist of what the president said was essentially to the Palestinians, give up terror and you will get your state. Now what is so outrageous about that? Now the Israelis will consider that outrageous, because they're going to say, that is a reward for terrorism. The president, you'll remember, said blowing yourself up does not help the Palestinian cause, but then he's saying, if you give it up, give up your terrorist campaign, the reward will be that you will get your state, and I think the Israelis are going to draw the line and say, that's exactly what we don't want do, because that is rewarding terrorism.

KAGAN: Perhaps equally outrageous to the Israelis might be, Bill, the outright statements by President Bush telling them flat out, get out of those Palestinian territories, withdraw your troops, which many Israelis would say is a defense of their state at this point.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Look, this was the most balanced statement the president has given so far. He talked about two states, Israel and Palestine. He praised the Saudi ideas for peace. He called for that Israeli withdraw, including specifically Ramallah. He mentioned Ramallah, where the Israelis are holding Yasser Arafat. That was a significant statement by the president. He said Israel must stop its settlement activities, which is something that Ariel Sharon is committed to, and he called on Israelis to stop humiliating Palestinians at checkpoint.

All of those criticisms of Israel far, far harsher than anything we have heard from this president. The question you raised before, why now, because the United States is losing friends in the Arab world who could not afford to support us as long as he were squarely on the side of Israel. And because of the war on terrorism, we have to do something to make sure that Egypt, and Jordan and the Saudis are still with us.

Why wait? Well, because Israel has to have an opportunity it implement with the president said, to start its withdraw. The risk, as you indicated, is there could be more suicide bombings. There is a lot of extremists in the Palestinian world that want to sabotage the peace talks that the president is trying to start.

KAGAN: Bill Schneider in Washington. Thank you very much. We have to cut this one a little bit short, because we have more breaking news out of the Pentagon. Back to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what do you have?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, more information about the transfer, the expected transfer, later today of this second American Taliban, Yasser Esam Hamdi. Now, CNN has learned that a military aircraft is expected to land at Guantanamo Bay about 4:00 this afternoon. At that point, Mr. Hamdi will be turned over to the custody of federal agents as he gets on this airplane. The plane is then expected to bring him back to the United States. We are led to believe that he will be transferred to some other aircraft at a Naval base somewhere on the east coast, and then he will be brought to northern Virginia, not far from here in the Pentagon, to the same federal detention facility that is holding Zacarias Moussaoui, as well as John Walker Lindh.

He is being moved very quickly for several reasons. Very secure, high security operation is expected to unfold. Basically, now that the Justice Department has virtually determined is he an American Citizen, they want to get him out of U.S. military custody as quickly as possible, because if he is going to face the U.S. federal court system, they don't want to have any vulnerability in their case against him by some claim that the military continued to hold him illegally. Of course, the U.S. military does not detain American citizens.

An announcement about all of this is expected later this afternoon from the Justice Department and the Pentagon. The lawyers we are told, they are now putting the final touches on the plan, reviewing it one last time.

But this man has a valid U.S. birth certificate. He was born 22 years ago in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Saudi parents. They took him back to Saudi Arabia as a toddler. It is not known whether he ever returned to the United States. Apparently, the key questions in determining whether or not he is a valid U.S. citizen are issues as, did he ever claim dual citizenship in Saudi Arabia? Did he ever potentially forfeit citizenship by fighting for a foreign power?

We are led to believe that later today the Justice Department will announce that he is a U.S. citizen, and they will take custody of him --Daryn.

KAGAN: Barbara, the timing on this is really interesting in that they're in such a big hurry now that they are establishing his U.S. citizenship. But as we heard in the Pentagon briefing, with the president this day has been claiming since the day he arrived at Guantanamo Bay is he is a U.S. citizen. Why would it take this long to clarify that?

STARR: Well, many of the detainees, several of them, have claimed a variety of citizenships over the last several months. Several of them have claimed to be U.S. citizens, British, Australian, Russian, Iranian, various European countries. It does take a while to track it all down. They were looking for a birth certificate, they were looking to get the final documentation. Apparently, in the last several days, they have located that birth certificate, assured themselves that it is a valid document, and once this has been decided, they want to move him very quickly for these reasons of legal jurisdiction, get him out of U.S. military detention and get him into the federal court system.

KAGAN: Good point. I imagine the men at Guantanamo Bay have been claiming a variety of things, and this guy was actually able to produce the birth certificate.

STARR: It is beginning to look that way, yes.

KAGAN: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks for keeping us up to date on that story all morning long. We want to bring back our Bill Schneider in one more time from Washington and look at the political situation domestically, with President Bush not only making these statements that were so critical of Israel today, but in making this decision, Bill, to send Colin Powell to the Middle East.

SCHNEIDER: Colin Powell has been criticized by conservatives, he's not their man; they trust Dick Cheney, the vice president, Donald Rumsfeld. And there has been open criticism from conservatives, saying that -- they have praised President Bush, but saying he must stick to his policy of giving four square support to Israel in not offering any hope of a political solution as long as terrorism continues. The president has changed course now. It'll be very interesting to see where conservatives come out on this.

KAGAN: All right, Bill Schneider in Washington.

Bill, thank you so much for your insight and your help on understanding the story throughout the morning. Appreciate it.

Once again, the news of the morning, announced from the White House just about an hour ago by President Bush. He decided, as he said if his words, enough is enough, that it's time either to seize an opportunity or let the situation spread out of control in the Middle East. He has decided to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the middle East. That trip will take place next week.




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