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White House Troubled By Developments in Middle East

Aired June 10, 2003 - 12:09   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get to that story at the top of the show, the Middle East. After the first Israeli attack, the White House said that President Bush was deeply troubled, and it said the Israeli actions could hamper the effort to end terror attacks against Israelis. Top American officials feverishly working the phones, trying to contain the fallout on all this.
CNN's John King standing by at the White House to tell us what's happening. John, is it fair to say there's some frustration with Mr. Sharon's government at this point, or is that too simplistic?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: As for the first attack, Miles, there is deep frustration, not simplistic at all. There is deep frustration with the Sharon government here at the White House.

And as for the second, later attack in which Israel once again struck from the air, killing some Palestinians, the White House says it needs to get the facts on that one. Israel says there was a rocket attack first, and that it was simply responding to an attack from the Palestinians.

So the White House says it is gathering the facts and it does not want to say anything judgmental about the second use of Israeli force. But as for the first use of helicopter gunships this morning in an apparent assassination attempt on a top Hamas leader, the White House says that that is directly out of bounds. Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, saying that in President Bush's view, that use of force by Israel, that helicopter gunship attack this morning directly violates the commitments Prime Minister Sharon made to President Bush when the leaders got together, along with the Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas, and committed to implementing the administration's so-called road map for peace.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This president has continued to say that Israel has a right to defend itself, but in this instance, this post-Aqaba environment, as the parties adhere and agreed to adhere to the road map, that's the way to the future. That's the way to security, and that's why the road map is so important. That's why the president today reminds Israel and the Palestinian Authority of the importance of getting back to the road map.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Ari Fleischer's reference to Aqaba, of course, a reminder that it was just days ago Mr. Bush was in high spirits, flanking the prime minister of Israel and the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Bush, quite optimistic that the early steps in the so- called road map would be implemented.

Now the administration trying to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control and into more violence. We are told there have been a number of conversations, direct complaints to the Israeli government, calls that include placed by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice here at the White House, making clear the president's displeasure about that first attack early this morning. Also, though, calls as well to the Palestinian Authority, the White House urging the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to do everything in his power to prevent even more attacks on Israel. So, Miles, displeasure with the Israeli government for sure, and a concern here at the White House that all of this could spiral out of control.

O'BRIEN: Well -- and on that point, John, you almost shudder at the prospect of the cycle of violence which might be unleashed by what we're seeing today. Is this the kind of thing that the administration feels can be handled with a lot of serious phone calls, or is there some thought about some sort of intermediary being put into the picture, again, right now, at this very crucial stage?

KING: Sadly, this is what has happened traditionally at this point. Whenever there is a resumption of momentum if you will, in the Middle East peace process, it seems almost inevitable that there is then violence to test that momentum. As for new steps that could be taken, the president says he himself will be directly involved when necessary. The role of Dr. Rice has been elevated, if you will, here at the White House. The national security adviser will have a much more aggressive role in intervening on behalf of the president. And also, the president is naming a new special envoy, Ambassador John Wolf, he is assistant secretary of state. He is still in Washington, due to go to the Middle East within the next several days. When he gets on the ground, Miles, that is precisely his job. When the administration feels that one side or the other is not keeping its promises or not moving quickly enough, it is Ambassador Wolf's job to call them into a meeting and essentially to twist arms if you will.

O'BRIEN: Well, the ambassador certainly faces a trial by fire ahead, and we wish him well. John King at the White House, thanks for everything. We appreciate it.


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