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President Bush Speaks Out on Compromise in Middle East

Aired April 28, 2002 - 17:25   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.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We now bring you, as promised, President Bush's remarks about Yasser Arafat agreeing now to his U.S. proposal. Here he is now.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... of six prisoners who are at Chairman Arafat's compound, and to withdraw its forces from Ramallah. The Palestinian Authority has agreed to accept this approach.

Many parties contributed to today's positive development. The United Kingdom played an especially important role, in creating a framework for international monitoring of the six prisoners.

I have called on all parties to step up their responsibilities, and today's developments are a positive sign that they are doing so.

Much hard work remains. And this is a time for all of us to commit to fight terror and to promote peace in the Middle East.

Chairman Arafat should now seize this opportunity to act decisively, in word and in deed against terror directed at Israeli citizens.

As we work to improve security situation in the region, all of us must step up our efforts to bring humanitarian relief and economic assistance to the Palestinian people.

This morning, I called Crown Prince Abdullah, to thank him for his visit to the United States. Our discussions forged a personal bond of friendship and strengthened the 60-year relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The crown prince has offered a number of constructive ideas for making political progress between Israel and the Palestinians. We will continue to build on these ideas, as we move forward to fight terror and to promote peace in the Middle East.

I will answer a couple of questions.

QUESTION: Mr. President, on the Saudi peace plan, where are the points of objection that they have not been able to agree upon?

BUSH: Well, they came with some constructive ideas, and we listened very carefully to their ideas. And we will continue to work with them and others in the region to promote them. I -- I believe that there is a lot of common ground, starting with all parties assuming responsibilities, their responsibilities. Crown prince clearly understood there is a responsibility for the Arab world. He also believes strongly that Chairman Arafat must step up, and believes that Israel should withdraw from the territories. And that is taking place now.

Patsy.

QUESTION: Mr. President, is today's proposal that was accepted by Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat a model for lifting the siege in Bethlehem?

And are you very concerned that the Israelis have not allowed the U.N. monitors into Jenin yet?

BUSH: Well, first of all, on the Jenin issue, that is being worked out now at the U.N. And secondly, in terms of Bethlehem, I believe we're making good progress toward ending that part of the Israeli incursion. And hopefully, it will get done soon.

But the big news, of course, is Ramallah. And Chairman Arafat is now free to move around, and free to lead. And we are expecting him to do so.

QUESTION: Mr. President, on this point, what would you expect to see from Chairman Arafat in the next 24, 48, 72 hours in terms of explicit demonstrations of his leadership?

BUSH: Well, of course, one of the things that Chairman Arafat must do is condemn and -- and thwart terrorist activities. It's important he do so.

Again, I keep saying this, and it's so important for all of us involved in this process to recognize, there are clear responsibilities. And his responsibility is, just what I said, to renounce -- to help detect and stop terrorist killings. Israelis have got responsibilities.

The key responsibility for the world at large is to help end the suffering of the Palestinian people, through humanitarian and economic assistance. I am very serious about our government's involvement in a -- in humanitarian relief. My heart grieves for people who have no hope. And there a lot of people who have no hope in the Middle East.

I found there are a lot of Palestinians who wonder whether or not, you know, life is worth living. And we as a world have got to help them understand there is a positive life ahead for they and their children.

And there is -- people in Israel, of course, are deeply concerned about their security, and I can completely understand that. And therefore all of us, Arab nation, Palestinians, the United States, the EU, must all continue our collective effort to fight terror.

There are clearly people in the Middle East who would use terror as a weapon to derail any peace process. And for there to be peace, something I long for, is something I know that Israel and the Palestinian people long for -- in order for there to be peace, we must continue to rout out terror. And the message can't be more clear, and we are going to continue to hold people accountable for results.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Mr. Sharon to visit?

BUSH: As I understand, yes, we did. Listen, I'm pleased any time people want to come and visit. We've had the king of Morocco, we've had Crown Prince Abdullah, obviously. And when I talked to him on the phone this weekend, the subject didn't come up, but I understand there are discussions going on about a potential trip. I welcome a trip here to the United States. I welcome people from that part of the world to come and bare their soul and discuss their plans for peace.

The thing I always look for when I talk to the leaders is a vision for peace. It's impossible to achieve a peace unless there's a vision. And one of the things I appreciated about the Saudi initiative a while ago was that it laid out, you know, a potential peace process, a plan for peace, a way to get to peace in the region, something we all long for.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

BUSH: Mr. Arafat must perform. Mr. Arafat must do his job. I've called upon Mr. Arafat in the past. I will continue to call upon Mr. Arafat to lead.

Somebody asked me one time a while ago, they said, has he disappointed you? Has he lost your respect? I said, well, he hasn't earned my respect yet. He must earn my respect by leading. And there are a lot of people, a lot of Palestinians who are suffering, and now's the time for him to step up.

This has been a hopeful day for the region, and we must continue to press forward to peace.

I want to thank you all.

WHITFIELD: You've been listening to President Bush talk to reporters from Crawford, Texas there. You've been hearing him, because we were only able to bring you the audio version of his address to reporters there.

President Bush qualified it this way -- he says the big news is Ramallah. Arafat is free to move around and lead, and he expects that Arafat should do that. In the words of President Bush, "Arafat must perform, he must do his job to lead."

Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, agreed earlier today to a U.S. proposal allowing U.S. and British monitors to go to Ramallah and to supervise six Palestinian suspects who Israel alleges were part of an assassination of the tourism minister there. Those six have been holed up in the compound with Yasser Arafat for a good month now, and now Yasser Arafat, along with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli cabinet, have now agreed also to the U.S. proposal. We want to go now to John King, who has been traveling with the president. He is in Crawford, Texas there now. John, President Bush making it very clear that he's at least very pleased, but he says that Arafat still needs to earn his respect, and in order to do that Arafat must lead his people.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The president singling out Mr. Arafat. Even as he said at the beginning of his statement, all parties must do more, including the United States, the Israelis and the Arab world. Then he went on to specifically say Mr. Arafat, now that he'll enjoy the freedom to move around the Palestinian territories because of this agreement, must do more in actions and deeds to stop terrorism and prove his commitment to peace.

And the president, even though he is winning some praise already in the Arab world, from Saudi Arabia, for example, for brokering an end to the standoff in Ramallah, he's likely to face additional criticism now that he is still adopting what in the Arab world and especially in the Palestinian territories they see as a double standard. Near the end of the president's statement, he announced Prime Minister Sharon of Israel will be coming to the White House. We understand that will be the week after next. That will be the fifth meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon. The president has yet to meet Yasser Arafat.

In the Arab world, they say why sit down with a man who for three weeks ignored the president's call to pull his troops out of the Palestinian territories, but refuse to meet with Yasser Arafat. Even as there is a breakthrough today in Ramallah, the president saluting finally some progress in the Middle East, he's likely to face some continued and additional criticism from the Arab world that his policy is not, in their view, even handed -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, John, this will no doubt help in the U.S.-Arab relations, particularly since Crown Prince Abdullah was with the president over the past few days. He initiated an eight-point proposal, Crown Prince Abdullah did, asking for the U.S. involvement, asking in that eight points to end the compound siege and to send U.S. monitors, in concert with the British monitors, which is exactly what President Bush has done. And President Bush even thanked just a moment ago Crown Prince Abdullah for his efforts and his contributions.

KING: Yes, this president very much wants to keep the moderate Arab nations, led at the moment by Saudi Arabia, involved as this process goes forward.

And you're exactly right. The crown prince has put forth a peace initiative. Israel objects to some proposals in that, and even if it became the subject of negotiations, those negotiations would be quite tough, but the president views it as a foundation, if you will, to get a political dialogue going. But the Saudis said very bluntly they were not open to that dialogue, even about their own plan, until the Israeli troops were out of the Palestinian territories, especially out from around the Palestinian compound in Ramallah. So this a chance for the president to take a fragile step, but a step in the direction of the Saudis and the political dialogue. So the president certainly saluting that.

But one thing the Saudis also have called for is armed U.S. peacekeepers. That is something this president does not want to do. He does not want to put U.S. military personnel on the ground in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He has agreed, though, in this case to send in unarmed or modestly armed security experts, we are told mostly led by the CIA, to take over supervision of those six prisoners now in the Ramallah compound -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And John, the president was asked about the situation in Jenin, the U.N. fact finders still not allowed to enter Jenin. But President Bush made it very clear in response to that one question being fielded to him saying that he really is counting on the U.N. to address this issue. This is not a White House issue at this juncture.

KING: That's right. He does not want to be directly involved in the day-to-day score keeping, if you will, of the Jenin controversy. He has for several days now appealed to the Israelis to allow a transparent investigation into what happened into Jenin. Senior administration officials say they understand on the one hand the Israeli concerns about the composition of that team, whether members of that team might perhaps be biased in favor of the Palestinian, but the U.S. message, we're told, in private to the Israelis has been: Raise your concerns with the U.N., but resolve them quickly, let that team get in there, put that controversy behind you.

Again, a key point to the administration, to the Israeli government is: If there is a debate over your conduct in Jenin, it will be much more difficult to more forward in any political dialogue -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you very much, John King, traveling with the president from Crawford, Texas.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

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