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Powell Calls Talks With Arafat 'Useful,' 'Constructive'

Aired April 14, 2002 - 08:37   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The secretary of state is now back in Jerusalem from his three-hour meeting with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president. A three-hour meeting that resulted in Powell's announcing that the talks were, in his words, "useful and constructive," setting the stage for a second round of talks with aides tomorrow. Top ranking United States officials and Palestinian leaders here in Jerusalem, and potentially yet a second round of talks between Powell and Arafat on Tuesday.

I want to bring in our White House correspondent, Major Garrett. He's monitoring this situation from his vantage point, from his perspective.

Major, tell us what you're hearing.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, again, Wolf.

Basically, here's what's been happening at the White House. As Secretary of State Powell was making his way from the Ramallah compound of Yasser Arafat back to Jerusalem, some of his senior advisers were on a sat. phone with some senior advisers here in Washington.

Now that they're on hard lines, the secretary of state is in Jerusalem, there's been a more detailed briefing on exactly what happened in those three hours of conversations with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

And a couple of White House aides I've had a chance to talk to have basically given a very consistent and supportive assessment from the Bush White House as to what is happening on the ground with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Let me read you one quote from a senior White House aide that I picked up just a few moments ago.

Quote, "We echo the secretaries sentiments, that the meeting was useful and constructive. But we don't want to go much beyond that. The secretary has maximum flexibility to create an environment of peace."

The last thing, Wolf, anyone here at the Bush White House wants to convey is any sense or distance or any sense that here in Washington the secretary of state is being given any particular marching orders.

His broad mandate, of course, is to create an environment of peace. But the White House is very cautious about saying whether or not this meeting with Yasser Arafat in any way contributed to creating that environment of peace.

And then we had Richard Armitage just a few moments ago, the deputy secretary of state, a couple of key things struck me, as I'm sure they struck you, Wolf.

First of all, no United States confirmation that absolutely there will be a second meeting between the secretary of state and Yasser Arafat. Perhaps there will be. Mr. Armitage said we'll see what happens in developments between the Israelis and Yasser Arafat.

Also, one other thing. He said they're not negotiations with the Palestinian leader, but talks about fleshing-out and seeing that there can be ways for him, that is the Palestinian leader, to flesh-out the commitments he made on paper, to renounce terrorism as a means of achieving political ends.

And also saying it would be useful if Yasser Arafat used the bully pulpit of his leadership. A clear indication from the Bush administration that it still seems to want more concrete gestures from the Palestinian leader to create that environment of peace.

Also, Wolf, Richard Armitage said it was important for the Israelis to step up those withdrawals in the West Bank and other occupied territories, but I thought, on balance, there was more of an assessment that there still needed to be more on the Palestinian side than the Israeli side -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Major Garrett, the president -- is he still at Camp David, monitoring the situation from there?

GARRETT: Yes, indeed. There was a lengthy conference call. Either it's still going on or its just concluded, between senior Powell advisers, quite possibly the secretary of state himself, Mr. Armitage, the CIA Director George Tenet, the National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. There may be a few other White House aides on that call as well.

All of them getting a full briefing on the entire range of events, not only the meeting with Powell and Arafat, but what's going to go on later on today with the Israeli president and the Israeli prime minister. All of that information will then be put together for a substantial briefing the president is to receive at Camp David before returning here to the White House this afternoon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Major Garrett at the White House, thank you very much.

And as we show you these pictures of the secretary of state departing from that meeting in Ramallah, coming back here to Jerusalem, I want to bring in our Jerrold Kessel, who of course is one of our Jerusalem correspondents. He's covered this part of the world for many, many years. Jerrold, tell our viewers why it's significant that now the secretary of state will be meeting with Israeli's President Moshe Katsav, and then later tonight meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The president of Israel is a largely ceremonial responsibility, but there are some significances to that job, isn't there?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: More than significance to the job, it's more the significance of the role that the president maps out for himself.

And this particular president, Moshe Katsav, has kept coming out and taking positions with regard to the ongoing battles with the Palestinians, not getting involved with policy making, but in a sense trying to represent what he sensed as public pulse with respect to how the battles should go on, how the larger contours of relations with the Palestinians should be constructed.

And it's very important, I think Secretary Powell will understand, it's important to hear from President Katsav, to hear how he reads the Israeli public mood with respect to ongoing battles with the Palestinians, or with respect to, for instance, trust with the Palestinian Authority, trust in the possibility of dealing with Yasser Arafat.

Of course, with regard to the meeting today with Mr. Sharon, that could be another key meeting, as Secretary of State Powell details for the Israeli prime minister precisely what he managed to get out of Yasser Arafat today and how effective he was in pushing Mr. Arafat to backup what he has to say yesterday with a commitment to do so in action, in cutting down and undermining anybody who tries to undertake terror acts.

That will be a key meeting that Mr. Sharon will have with the secretary of state later this evening -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Jerrold, that meeting will take place not here in Jerusalem, but in Tel Aviv, where the prime minister has spent most of today. Why will it be in Tel Aviv, if you know, as opposed to here in Jerusalem, where the earlier meeting on Friday, the 4 1/2-hour first round of talks, occurred?

KESSEL: I'm not sure exactly why, but it possibly will be at the prime minister's headquarters within the government complex there, very close to the defense establishment, as the unfolding of this ongoing Israeli military offensive takes shape.

And now Mr. Powell will possibly want to know specifically what plans -- he didn't get that from that prime minister on Friday when they met, about what plans there might be for a timetable for the Israeli withdrawal or the rolling back of that ongoing military offensive.

I think that could be a focus of now Mr. Powell wanting to hear from Mr. Sharon more of a timetable in that respect. Now I want to bring in here, if I may, an Israeli cabinet minister, Natan Sharansky, who is here with us in our Jerusalem bureau, and I want to put to you, Mr. Sharansky, we heard there before, Richard Armitage, the undersecretary of state, speaking to Wolf Blitzer about Yasser Arafat's role, where he might come into the picture.

And the very fact of the meeting now, today, between the secretary of state and Mr. Arafat seems to suggest that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's approach to Yasser Arafat, of sidelining him, isolating him, is backfiring.

Yasser Arafat seems to be very much backed as a factor in this process.

NATAN SHARANSKY, ISRAELI CABINET MINISTER: Yasser Arafat, during 10 years already, succeeded to play a double role: to be the leader of the terror and the only hope for peace.

And we are not going to permit him to continue playing this role, while we have almost every day suicide bombings, killing of whole families.

And we know for sure, for a fact, with documents, that Yasser Arafat is standing behind all these terrorist attacks. We are not going to permit him to be at the same time the leading terrorist and the only hope for peace with whom we are negotiating.

KESSEL: If the United States determines as a result of this meeting -- we still don't know the outcome of the meeting that Secretary of State Powell had with Mr. Arafat -- that he is a potentially viable factor in stabilizing efforts in the region, would Israel oppose that? Prime Minister Sharon has been saying all along he is no longer a partner, even for a cease fire.

SHARANSKY: I don't think that the United States, who is our great ally and friend, has any illusions about the real role of Yasser Arafat.

Secretary of State Powell was, of course, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). The documents -- and even was a witness of one of the suicide bombings.

And of course, every call for peace has to be tried, but let's not fall into the same trap so many times. Let's not permit Yasser Arafat to continue building the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of terror.

KESSEL: Are you disappointed that the United States is, to use your phrase, perhaps on the verge of falling into that trap again?

SHARANSKY: I hope the United States will not fall in this trap, especially when the United States itself is leading this assault against terror and especially when we here are in this unique situation, when terrorists are all over the world, but the only place in the world where terrorists have their autonomy, built by one man, Yasser Arafat. I don't think in this situation that America will fall in this trap. KESSEL: You're saying, then, that all this talk now, and the possibility of more talks tomorrow, between the secretary of state and Mr. Arafat, between Palestinian negotiators and the American delegation, is meaningless and ought to be meaningless?

SHARANSKY: Talks are always important, but it is the facts, on the ground, which then matter.

And I think that what will change the facts on the ground is uncompromising straggle against terror and mutual effort of all the free world to bring more security, which will come only together with democracy.

As President Bush said himself in his wonderful speech, the Palestinian people deserves a government which respects democracy and human rights.

KESSEL: You say uncompromising actions on the ground. Was there any indication from Mr. Sharon or from the military of how long they would need to go on with this operation in the West Bank?

SHARANSKY: You can be sure that we are not going to stay one more day the moment the operation is finished, in one or another place.

KESSEL: No timetable, then?

SHARANSKY: But we cannot talk about specific timetables. You said, more or less, what is our summation, but the fact today is that those towns, where we are, there are no suicide bombers coming from there. Those suicide bombings which take place, they're taking place from the places where we still didn't start working.

KESSEL: Thank you very much, Natan Sharansky.

And we need to get across now, after hearing from the Israeli side, to a statement from United States Secretary of State Colin Powell.


SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: I think the discussions were constructive and that we dealt with all range of issues, and we fully committed to implementation of resolution 1402, which calls for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces. And we believe that a process that will take parallel tracks of the political horizon that needs to be worked on, especially implementation of the Security Council resolution (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and also to reach the point of establishing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Israel.

QUESTION: Did Chairman Arafat promise to do anything to reign in the violence and...

ERAKAT: Absolutely. We are fully committed, as I said, to our obligations emanating from the understandings and agreements reached, including our security obligations. But I'm sure the secretary saw (UNINTELLIGIBLE) situation, saw who is controlling here. And I believe that once the Israelis complete their full withdrawal, we will have the opportunity to carry out our obligations.


ERAKAT: There is no sticking point. As the secretary said, there will be a Palestinian and American team meeting tomorrow to continue discussions of a whole range of ideas. The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and security aspects, the Mitchell Report and...



BLITZER: That was Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, speaking to reporters immediately following the 3-hour meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Also immediately following that meeting, the Secretary of state spoke to reporters. Here's that videotape.


COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I just completed a useful and constructive exchange with Chairman Arafat and the members of his staff, and we exchanged a variety of ideas and discussed steps on how we can move forward. And members of my staff will be meeting with members of his staff again tomorrow. Thank you very much.


BLITZER: There was the Secretary of State Colin Powell saying that he had useful and constructive talks with Yasser Arafat. Three hours of useful and constructive talks, followed up tomorrow with a meeting between their staffs, potentially a second round of talks Tuesday involving Powell and Arafat. No hard confirmation of that as yet.




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