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14 April 2002

U.S. Calls for Responsible Action by All Parties in Middle East

(Rice discusses Powell/Arafat meeting, Venezuela situation on NBC's
"Meet the Press") (1510)
By Wendy S. Ross
Washington File White House Correspondent
Washington -- President Bush believes now is the time for Israelis,
Palestinians and Arab states "to act responsibly," the President's
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said in an April 14
interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," shortly after Secretary of State
Colin Powell met in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority Chairman
Yasser Arafat.
President Bush, Rice said, "continues to believe ... that this is not
just an issue of what Israel does. It's not just an issue of what the
Palestinians do. It is not just an issue of what the Arab states do.
It is an issue of what all parties do to act responsibly at this time.
This is an issue of accountability for the parties in the region."
Rice said she had talked with Powell following his more than three
hour meeting with Arafat and was told that it "had been a very
straightforward and businesslike meeting."
Powell "went in to deliver a very strong message to Chairman Arafat
that the president and all are watching to make certain that he
follows up on some of the very positive statements" that Arafat made
April 13 denouncing the bombing that took place in Jerusalem April 12
and denouncing terrorism against citizens.
"Now it is time to follow those words with action," Rice said, saying
that Powell and Arafat "began to talk about how they might follow
those terms with action."
Powell "is in the region to call to account all of the parties that
have a role to play here to play a responsible role." Powell "has a
difficult mission, but he has considerable authority and considerable
flexibility from the president to do what he needs to do to call the
parties to account," Rice said.
She said there will be a follow-on meeting April 15 between the
Palestinians and the U.S. at the staff level "to try to put forward a
plan" based on the security mechanisms proposed by U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet.
U.S. Middle East Negotiator General Anthony Zinni will lead the U.S.
side at that meeting, she said.
Chairman Arafat, she said, needs to use "whatever authority he has to
end the calls for suicide bombers, or what we're now calling homicide
bombers, because they don't just take their own lives, they take other
people's lives too. He needs to end support for this. He needs to make
clear that he will use all of the means at his disposal to rout out
terrorist networks and that he does not expect the Palestinian
people's cause to be served by these means that only hurt other
innocent civilians. If he uses whatever authority he has to do that,
then this period will come out well."
Bush, in his April 4 Rose Garden speech, "has laid out a road map that
says that there are very tough things that need to be done by all of
the parties ... and we expect parties to concentrate on what they need
to do, not on what others need to do," Rice said.
Asked how long she expects Powell to remain in the region, Rice said
it will be "at least a couple of more days, but we will assess it day
by day, and he will have the flexibility to stay as long as he's
needed."
She said she thinks "it's highly unlikely" that he will stay in the
region for weeks or months.
"It's obviously important for the secretary to be there and to talk
directly to the parties, but everyone knows what they need to do. It's
no secret what will bring peace to the Middle East. It is getting the
parties to stand up and act responsibly."
Asked whether President Bush would consider an international peace
conference, Rice said "we would consider anything that would help in
this situation." She added: "We don't want to act prematurely here.
We'd like to get Secretary Powell back here after his mission is
complete. A lot has happened in the last week or so, and we need to
assess where we are. But we're looking at a number of ideas that might
help move this forward. But any conference, any meeting has to proceed
from a set of principles, and the president laid those principles out
in a stark reality, saying that peace in the Middle East is not going
to come easily. It comes only when parties are willing to take hard
steps. He called, for instance, on the Arabs to go to the tradition of
other Arab leaders that have taken hard steps -- Sadat, King Hussein
of Jordan -- and the [Saudi] Crown Prince has taken a hard step in
moving forward with ideas about how the region might live in peace."
Rice described "some positive elements" taking place. She pointed to
the efforts to resolve peacefully the situation at the Church of the
Nativity in Bethlehem, where armed Palestinians have taken refuge. The
Israelis, she said, "have pulled out of, by their count, close to 40
villages in which they were once involved. We are trying to work
toward a cease-fire. The mechanisms are in place. We just need to get
the parties to own up to them."
Asked if she believes there's a moral equivalency between the actions
of the Israelis and the actions of the Palestinians, Rice said "We do
not believe that there is a moral equivalency between suicide bombers
going in to blow up innocent people and self-defense. But that is
really not the issue here. The issue is that all parties have
responsibilities that they need to discharge.
"All parties have responsibilities to bring about peace in the region
and to make it possible for two states to exist in which the Israeli
and Palestinian people can live side by side.
"We've not been shy in speaking out publicly about some of the things
that the Israelis need to do to make life better for their Palestinian
neighbors -- and they're going to be their neighbors -- that they need
to show compassion at checkpoints. It should not be that ambulances
line up for long periods of time at checkpoints and that women are
unable to get to a hospital to have children. It should not be the
case that people go through daily humiliations," she said.
"But it's going to take all parties, not just the Israelis, to make
life better for the Palestinian people, and it can start with the
Palestinian Authority renouncing the kind of violence that has been
taking place against Israeli civilians. It can start with the
Palestinian Authority working through the Tenet security work plan. It
can start with the Arabs taking responsibility for terrorism in the
region. Terrorism is a block, not just to the aspirations of the
Israeli people but to the aspirations of the Palestinian people, and
so this is a call to all parties to be accountable, disciplined and to
be constructive in the way they go about building the future."
Rice rejected criticism that Bush has been unclear in his Middle East
policies.
"We believe that we are on the right course here," Rice said.
"It's not an issue of shuttling back and forward between the Israelis
and the Palestinians. From the very beginning, we have believed that
the broader strategic context here matters, that the role of Saudi
Arabia and Egypt and Jordan matters."
She said the administration has spent "as much time building that
foundation as working with the parties, and that foundation ultimately
will pay off."
Asked her reaction to the situation in Venezuela where President Hugo
Chavez has returned to power after resigning April 12 under pressure
from the military following a national strike in which 14 people were
killed by gunfire, Rice said:
"Well, I hope that Hugo Chavez takes the message that his people sent
him that his own policies are not working for the Venezuelan people,
that he's dealt with them in a high-handed fashion. And I hope what he
said in his speech this morning, that he understands that this is a
time for national reflection, that he recognizes it's time for him to
reflect on how Venezuela got to where it is. He needs to respect
constitutional processes. This is no time for a witch-hunt. This is
time for national reconciliation in Venezuela. And we are working with
our partners in the OAS (Organization of American States) and in the
region to try and help Venezuela through this very difficult time. But
we do hope that Chavez recognizes that the whole world is watching,
and that he takes advantage of this opportunity to right his own ship,
which has been moving frankly in the wrong direction for quite a long
time."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)



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