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Powell/Arafat Meeting Still Undecided

Aired April 12, 2002 - 14:11   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: We want to get back to that meeting now with Colin Powell. We're getting a mixed message right now, as to whether or not that meeting will take place. Andrea Koppel here in Jerusalem, traveling with the secretary of state, updates us now on what she is hearing from senior administration officials.

Andrea, hello again.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello again, Bill. Well, the reason that we're getting mixed signals is because a decision hasn't been made yet. Until today's suicide bombing, President Bush, Secretary Powell had all made clear that, irrespective of what Israel wanted, the U.S. was going to go ahead with this meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah on Saturday.

Following this suicide attack, in the first minutes following, I was told there's been no change. But within the matter of, let's say, two to three hours after that, clearly, the pressure from the Israeli government was beginning to take its toll and, perhaps some within the White House also had begun to reconsider.

They haven't made a decision yet, Bill. But what we're told by the State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, just a couple of minutes ago, he said that they're now looking at the whole situation. They're looking at where we are and where we stand. So the trip was supposed to happen sometime within the next, let's say, 12, 15 hours. Presumably they'll be making a decision in the not-too-distant future as to whether or not Secretary Powell will go ahead with it.

There is obviously incentive on the other side, as far as the Arab world is concerned, for Secretary Powell to move ahead with this trip. Because nobody, really, with the exception of some of Arafat's aides, has seen him since this incursion began two weeks ago. I should say his aides are journalists who have managed to get into his headquarters.

And the Arab world has made very clear that it's a nonstarter for the U.S. to be talking with any other potential Palestinian representative other than Arafat. And so if the U.S. hopes to sort of break this cycle of violence and try to get Yasser Arafat to condemn the terrorist attacks and to use his influence to rein in militants, Powell believes that he needs to get to him and make his case face to face, Bill. HEMMER: Let me approach it from a different direction right now. The Palestinians have said for some time that what Colin Powell has to do for them is give them something. Is that the end of the incursions, is that working toward pulling out of the West Bank and Gaza? Do you know, are you aware, of anything that Colin Powell is willing or able to give Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians upon this trip?

KOPPEL: Well, what the U.S. had hoped, and certainly, part of its strategy was to try to convince the Israeli government to withdraw their tanks and troops from West Bank towns and cities, or at least be able to get what they like to refer to as the political side of this, to get to the discussions and the guarantees of a Palestinian state by the Israeli government. To get the seizures and the closures of West Bank towns and cities ended, so that Yasser Arafat could then turn to his people and say, the last 21 months has not been in vain, we've gotten something out of it -- to be able to show them something tangible.

But as we saw this morning here in Jerusalem, when Secretary Powell sat down with Israel's prime minister, he was given -- at least that was the impression that we got, from both listening to Secretary Powell after their meeting and also from private discussions we've had with some of Powell's aides -- that he got the cold shoulder.

That Ariel Sharon basically said we're not giving you a timeline. We're not going to tell you how much longer we're going to remain in these towns and cities. And this is about our national security. It's about fighting terrorism. And so, tomorrow, if Secretary Powell does go ahead with his trip to Ramallah, Bill, he is going to go there without very much to offer.

HEMMER: All right, Andrea, thanks. Andrea Koppel again, working the story in Jerusalem. Andrea, thanks to you.

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