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Newest Suicide Attack Offers Complications for Powell Visit

Aired April 12, 2002 - 12:13   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: I mentioned Colin Powell. He is here in the region. What complications now come upon this current conflict? For that, to the White House and John King, who joins us with perspective from Washington. John, hello to you.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Bill. Some of the complications quite obvious and immediate, others more subtle in nuance perhaps. But one complication is in the wake of this attack. You have heard the mayor of Jerusalem and other leading Israeli politicians say by no means should Secretary of State Colin Powell sit down tomorrow with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Israel considers him to be a terrorists, considers him to be responsible for this, the latest in a series of suicide bombings, and believes that by sitting down with him, the Bush administration is essentially dignifying and giving invitation to a terrorist, and dignifying the acts that you see, the pictures you are seeing here today.

But the White House saying that meeting will go forward tomorrow. We also are being told, though, that Secretary Powell will deliver quite a blunt message, saying he is meeting with Mr. Arafat because he is the leader of the Palestinian people, but that this White House, the Bush White House believes that Mr. Arafat if it's not at his last chance, certainly near his last chance to do anything to bring about an end to the violence and the hope of a political dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The administration, we are told, to make the case: How can it lean on the Sharon government to end the military offensive in the Palestinian territories if these attacks on Israeli citizens continue.

And in that regard, the White House condemning the attack this morning, again, as we continue to look at the pictures. President Bush in the White House situation room receiving his daily national security briefing when he was handed a note about this attack. His press secretary, Ari Fleischer, a short time later, telling reporters quote, "the president condemns this morning's homicide bombing in Jerusalem. There are clearly people in the region who want to disrupt Secretary Powell's mission. The president will not be deterred from seeking peace despite this attack. There are people who don't want peace. The president wants peace, and he will make every effort to seek peace. And that's why the secretary is in the region."

So the Powell/Arafat meeting, at least as of this hour, scheduled to go forward. U.S. Officials believe it is critical for the secretary to deliver a blunt message to the Palestinian leader. And note the language in that White House statement. They call it a homicide bombing. The president and top aides deeply concerned not only in the Palestinian territories, but across the Arab world, that these suicide bombers are treated like martyrs in much of the Arab media, treated like heroes. In places like Saudi Arabia, even though on the one hand, they support a peace initiative, supplying money to the families of what many call martyrs. The president making clear today in his statement he considers this a homicide. His press secretary, in fact, saying as he released that statement, that this is a murder in the view of the White House. So, the tough language designed to more to try to change the political dynamic, if you will. But, Bill, a great sense of frustration, virtually every day of Powell's mission, there have been more complications. The White House had hoped at the outset to get a cease-fire, very hard to see that coming about as we once again look at yet another deadly attack today -- Bill.

HEMMER: John, one would think though, given the description you're giving us about the tough wording and the tough message, does the message become that much tougher in Ramallah tomorrow? Because, frankly, for a week, we have been talking about how Colin Powell would urge Yasser Arafat and tell him essentially he has no other option other than to publicly denounce acts like these and do it in Arabic, and not just do it once or a couple of times, but to do it repeatedly. Given the events of the day, does the message then, in turn, become that much tougher face-to-face on the ground?

KING: We certainly expect it to. And we were told Secretary Powell will say bluntly that if Mr. Arafat wants to deal with this administration and wants this administration to be what the term that has always been used, as the honest broker between the Israelis and the Palestinians, that he has to earn the president's trust. Make no mistake about it, at this White House, they do not say that Mr. Arafat has lost the president's trust. They say he has never earned it. That is why, although Palestinians criticize the White House, many Arab leaders criticize the White House, Prime Minister Sharon has been here four times. Mr. Arafat, never.

He will not get a meeting the president, White House aides say, until he does much more. There was a debate, even, as to whether Secretary Powell would meet with him because of White House displeasure. It was decided because of pressure from the Arab world that Secretary Powell would have this meeting, but he would look Mr. Arafat in the eye, we are told, and say you must act and you must act now, or else we cannot tell the Israeli government that there is not a military solution here. You do not stop the terror, the Israelis are committed to stopping it themselves.

HEMMER: John, we do know that Colin Powell will be here on the schedule, anyway, for a couple days' time. But it's also been reported and talked about that his stay could be extended, who knows, possibly a week, maybe even longer than that. What are you sensing in Washington about how long the White House is willing to let Colin Powell stay here in Jerusalem, and talk between the two sides?

KING: He is willing to stay, he says, as long as it takes if he believes that progress is being made. That, of course, was the same message the president said when he sent General Zinni, his special envoy, back to the region.

No one expects the secretary to stay, at least on this trip, beyond several days, beyond what he is supposed to stay, which is after his meeting with Mr. Arafat on Saturday. But he could conceivably stay for a week or more if he believes progress is being made or he could stay if he believes that progress is being made, try to cement that progress, come back to Washington and then have additional contacts with the parties, either himself or through deputies. But the White House says it must see signs of progress.

The question now is will the administration pull back Secretary Powell and bring him home if there is no progress or will it feel compelled to leave him in the region to try to bring about that progress if we have continuing frustration? That is the question confronting the Bush administration, and it has confronted previous U.S. administrations. How engaged do you stay at a time when there is very little, at least evident public hope, that you can get these two parties to at least stop the violence. And remember, no one talking about a peace process, no one talking about a continued sustained dialogue, no one even thinking they can get Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat to trust each other. They want a cease-fire and they want some security cooperation. And then he will take it from there, if they can get there.

HEMMER: John, yesterday, you were making the point that there is so much hatred between two sides, and you say you were talking to a number of people on both sides telling you that the hatred is absolutely palpable, and indeed, we are seeing it again today, killing and violence by the hour throughout here in the Middle East. John, thanks, at the White House front lawn. We will be back in touch throughout the day here.

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