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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat Agrees to Appoint Prime Minister

Aired February 14, 2003 - 06:36   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Now on to breaking news out of the Middle East. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat says he will appoint a prime minister, and that is a key reform issue.
For details, we take you live to Jerusalem and Jerrold Kessel.

Still so many questions associated with this -- Jerrold.

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Carol, because this was a key demand, one of the key demands that had been made of Mr. Arafat, that he appoint a prime minister alongside him made of him by the United States, the international community, Israel. Now, he says he will do so.

Now, to try and get a handle on some of those questions that remain to be answered, we are joined here in our Jerusalem bureau by Terje Larsen, the special United Nations envoy, one of the men who had been responsible for bringing the pressure to bear on Yasser Arafat to make this move.

Now, Mr. Larsen, thanks for joining us.

He says he'll appoint a prime minister, Yasser Arafat. He hasn't yet named him, and he hasn't yet said what powers the prime minister will have. Do you expect him to do the right thing when he does so?

TERJE LARSEN, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY: Yes, I do indeed. I do expect Mr. Arafat to go to the equivalent of the Palestinian parliament to present his candidate, and hopefully that will be a credible (UNINTELLIGIBLE) candidate, who will get the support of the council.

KESSEL: Credible candidate, it must be someone who is acceptable, that means to the international community, not just someone who is loyal to Yasser Arafat.

LARSEN: The appointment of a Palestinian prime minister is an essential instrument in order to establish a situation where the parties can go back to the table. So, it has to be a credible prime minister, both to the international community, the broader international community, but of course particularly related to the Palestinian-Israeli partners.

Now, it comes just as the pressure is crowding in on Yasser Arafat, as on others, a possible U.S.-led action against Iraq. How significant is the timing of Mr. Arafat's move right now? LARSEN: Of course, that question can only be answered by Mr. Arafat himself, because it was his decision to go public with his announcement today. But (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Palestinian (UNINTELLIGIBLE) maintains a focus also on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

KESSEL: And the United States is on board. They weren't at the meetings with Mr. Afarat, their envoy. As part of the whole international pressure, the United States, the international community, the Europeans are one on this?

LARSEN: As you are aware, Jerrold, there has been a longstanding position by the U.S. administration not to relate to Mr. Arafat personally, and this is the reason why there were no U.S. officials present today, and also in the about one-week long intensive dialogue we've had with Mr. Arafat. But of course, the State Department has been kept fully abreast of the dialogue we've had with him.

KESSEL: Thanks very much, Terje Larsen, the U.N. envoy, who was part of those bringing pressure on Yasser Arafat. And it does remain to be seen what reaction there will be, both in Washington, and in Jerusalem from the Israeli side, to this move by Yasser Arafat in advance of when he actually makes that move expected next week.

Back to you for now -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Jerrold Kessel, many thanks to you -- reporting live from Jerusalem this morning.

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