Jordan’s Foreign Minister
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KWAME HOLMAN: Suicide blasts rocked Israel again last night in a second straight day of deadly attacks. Two Palestinian bombers blew themselves up almost simultaneously in a busy pedestrian area in downtown Tel Aviv. Three people were killed, dozens were injured. A militant group, the Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility.
The explosions came a day after Palestinian gunmen dressed as Israeli soldiers ambushed a bus filled with Jewish settlers in the West Bank, killing eight. Three militant Palestinian groups claimed responsibility for that attack. During the Israeli army’s manhunt for the attackers, a gunfight in the West Bank resulted in the deaths of a Palestinian and an Israeli soldier. On Wednesday, Israeli warplanes struck a Palestinian factory in the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials claimed it was used to make bombs. Palestinians said it produced machinery.
Since the Israeli army began occupying several Palestinian cities in the West Bank last month, there had been no Palestinian attacks on Israelis. The occupation followed back-to- back suicide bombings in Jerusalem June 20. This week, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority condemned the recent attacks, but in a statement released yesterday, it blamed Israel for creating “the suitable atmosphere for such operations which we condemn.”
Today, the Israeli army cracked down on security, carrying out searches and questioning Palestinian students at an Islamic university in the West Bank. In more than 21 months of fighting since the Palestinian uprising began, some 600 Israelis and nearly 1,800 Palestinians have been killed.
In New York Tuesday, diplomatic envoys from the U.S., Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations met. Calling themselves “the quartet,” the group worked to come up with a roadmap for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the U.S. has split sharply with the rest of the group on Arafat’s leadership role. The Bush administration has said Arafat has done little to stop the violence.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (June 24) Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership so that a Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty.
IGOR IVANOV, Foreign Minister, Russia (Translated): It is only for the Palestinian people to decide who they want to have as their leader. It is their sovereign right. As for President Arafat, he is the legitimately elected leader of Palestine, and while he is in this capacity, we will continue to maintain our relations with him.
KWAME HOLMAN: But yesterday during a joint news conference with Poland’s president, Mr. Bush renewed his demand for Arafat’s ouster.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The issue is much bigger than a person, as far as I’m concerned. Mr. Arafat has failed to deliver. I still feel that way. And I know the Palestinian people will be better served by new leadership.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today, after meeting in Washington with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. still was committed to forging a political solution for peace in the Middle East. The ministers were in town to present their detailed plan for creating a new Palestinian government. Later in the day, they delivered it to President Bush at the White House. He spoke before they met.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Our vision of peace says it ought to be two states living side by side in peace. Our vision for peace recognizes that there must be security in the region. Our vision for peace understands that too many Palestinians suffer. They suffer from lack of food and basic services. Our vision for peace understands that all parties have got responsibilities. The United States has a responsibility. The neighborhood has responsibilities. Israelis have responsibilities. Palestinians have responsibilities. And we will continue to work with all parties to achieve the pathway to peace.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush and the foreign ministers then met for about 30 minutes.
JIM LEHRER: And with me now to explain the plan is Jordan’s foreign minister, Marwan Muasher.
Mr. Minister, welcome.
MARWAN MUASHER: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: The plan that you offered today to President Bush for a Palestinian state, what kind of, give us a feel for what kind of government, in general terms, would result from this proposal.
MARWAN MUASHER: First of all, let me point out that we did not offer any concrete and detailed plan that is fully fledged. What we did was offer some ideas how to move forward from now to the elections and then beyond the elections to the end of the three-year period, after which we hope a Palestinian state will be established. We talked about the need to deal with the security aspects immediately. As you know, we are against suicide bombings from a moral and political point of view.
We talked about ideas that we have that we are working with Palestinians to ensure that they rebuild their security apparatus and are able to move firmly against these organizations. We also talked about political reform and the ideas that the Palestinians have in order to reform the Palestinian Authority and come up with a constitution that basically have separation of powers and a responsible government. But we also talked about Israeli commitments and obligations, in particular the humanitarian needs. As you know, the situation in the Palestinian Authority is bleak, as the president pointed out, and needs immediate attention. We also need Israel to withdraw from areas it occupied to pre-September 28, 2000, if the elections are to take place. I think the road map from now to the elections is very clear.
We were very encouraged by what the president said both privately and publicly about his vision of peace, which includes a Palestinian state in three years and security for all countries of the region and his commitment to work together with all of us on a road map that would take us to that endgame.
JIM LEHRER: Now, what’s the next step on your road map?
MARWAN MUASHER: I think the next step is to ensure, as I said, that the security situation is specified.
JIM LEHRER: But I mean within that, how do you — security is security, is security. It depends on who’s saying it. What do you need to happen next? What do you want to happen next to get to a security situation that works?
MARWAN MUASHER: As I said, there are efforts by all of us, Jordan, Egypt and the United States, to come up with a security plan that is coordinated with the Palestinians in order to put together the necessary arrangements and institutions to make sure that we move effectively against these organizations that practice terror. Remember, the Israelis today are in control of the West Bank, and they themselves have not been able to stop the terrorist attacks that took place in the last few days. We need to all work together in order to do this. But what we see today is a firm and clear Palestinian commitment to do that and to move on the security front so that we can deal with the political aspects of the problem.
JIM LEHRER: Move on the security front — and yet as we just reported and as everybody knows, just in the last two days — there were two new terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. So what does that mean? What does that say about the state of security from the Palestinian side?
MARWAN MUASHER: I think what it means is that we cannot hope to just deal with the security aspect of the problem without also dealing with the other aspects, the economic situation or track and the political track. As I said, again, the Palestinians today are not in control of the West Bank. Mr. Sharon and the Israeli government is, and they could not stop these attacks.
The only way we can do this is to put together all our efforts, both to work on the security aspects, but also to relaunch a political process that gives people hope that in three years they can witness the end of the occupation. I think the Arab states are very serious in working with the Palestinians in order to effect these security arrangements, and I think the results of these arrangements will start to occur soon.
JIM LEHRER: But you’re not saying though, that you can stop the terrorist attacks?
MARWAN MUASHER: No one can say that we can 100 percent stop the terror attacks. Israel has not been able to do that with all its military might and occupation of the West Bank. What we can say is that we can put a 100 percent effort not only by the Palestinians, but by all Arab states and by the United States, in making sure that we give the Palestinians every logistical help they need in rebuilding their apparatus and moving against these organizations.
JIM LEHRER: President Bush has said many, many times in the last several weeks that he does not believe Yasser Arafat, as the head of the Palestinian Authority, is committed to stopping this violence. Did that come up today in your discussion?
MARWAN MUASHER: It did not come up in any extended way. I think we, first of all, both agree to disagree on this issue and to focus on the reform process itself. I think we both agree that the issue is bigger than any one person. We both agree that the reform process has to be put in place by the Palestinians so that a strong government emerges, one that is accountable and responsible and able to take decisions. And once that is in place, then I think it is up to the Palestinians to elect their leaders. We cannot be in a position to tell the Palestinians to elect who their leaders are in a democratically free election.
JIM LEHRER: But would you not agree that President Bush is clearly saying from his point of view, it’s never going to work as long as Yasser Arafat is in charge?
MARWAN MUASHER: I think what we’ve seen is a commitment by the administration not to have this issue stand in the way of progress. I think we are both focused on the reform process, focused on moving forward, and I think we’re both committed to see that happen, even while we disagree on this issue.
JIM LEHRER: Is your plan for, a proposal– as you say, it’s not specific in all chapters and all verses, but that for a democratically elected government, a parliamentary form of government with a prime minister and all of the trappings for the Palestinians?
MARWAN MUASHER: I think we are looking at two phases: Phase one takes us from now to the elections after a new constitution is approved by the Palestinians, one that has a clear separation of powers, a parliamentary system; and other details that I think is up to the Palestinians to talk about. But beyond that, once the elections take place, then we are talking about another phase, a road map that would take us from the elections to, say, mid 2005, which is the date at which a Palestinian state is supposed to be independent and to exist on the basis of the ’67 borders.
JIM LEHRER: And you and your Arab colleagues agree with that timetable?
MARWAN MUASHER: We do, and I think we are very encouraged to see that the president also has in mind a very firm, not just endgame, but time line. And the president talked about a three-year period and talked about his commitment and determination to see through that this is indeed a possibility. He talked about, as we all heard him now, obligations from both sides, Palestinians and Israelis, in addition to the Arabs and Americans in order to make sure that we don’t just keep talking about political visions — but in translating these visions into implementable work plans with time lines.
JIM LEHRER: Is the leadership of the Palestinian Authority committed to this time line, as well?
MARWAN MUASHER: Yes, they are. We believe they are, and as I said, we are committed, as Arab states, to help see this through. We have come up with an Arab initiative in Beirut in March of this year in which we committed not just the Arab states neighboring Israel or those who have territorial disputes with Israel, but we have committed the full Arab world, every single Arab state, to collectively guarantee the security of Israel and to collectively guarantee the end of the conflict and that there will be no further claims. And I think this is a very important point to make, that we are now working as Arab states in order to make sure that we have a comprehensive settlement to this conflict.
JIM LEHRER: What did you, you and your colleagues today, want to accomplish at this meeting with President Bush?
MARWAN MUASHER: I think we wanted, first, to assure the president that we continue to work we closely and continue to do our part in this process to make sure that we move forward. We also wanted to make sure that there is a commitment to an endgame and a time line, and we see that, we saw that commitment loud and clear by the president, by the secretary. We also wanted to ensure that we sit together and work out, as I said, a detailed road map with benchmarks, with obligations, with a monitoring group to ensure that we are on the right track to that endgame. And I can safely say that we come out of the meeting very encouraged that, on all these fronts, we saw a determined president, a determined administration to work with all of us in order to achieve this.
JIM LEHRER: All right. In a very specific way, what happens next?
MARWAN MUASHER: What happens next is, as I said, making sure the security–
JIM LEHRER: No, but I mean specifically. Who meets with whom? Whose responsibility now, after this meeting today, whose responsibility is to go from this place and do something?
MARWAN MUASHER: Everybody has responsibilities. I start with our own. We are working closely on the security aspect. Our security agencies are working with the Palestinians.
JIM LEHRER: To help them do what?
MARWAN MUASHER: The U.S. security agencies are working, also, to produce a security plan that everybody agrees to that has timetables and that has bench marks associated with it. We are also–
JIM LEHRER: Excuse me. Wait. Let me stop you. A security plan. Now, what do you mean by a security plan? Is this police officers at certain places at certain border crossings, at, training new police officers for the Palestinian Authority? What exactly do you mean?
MARWAN MUASHER: All of the above. Retraining of Palestinian officers, logistical support, rebuilding the institutions that can take effective measures against outlaws or those who want to engage in terrorist acts making sure that we have unified command of the security agencies all of the above. Putting together a system that ensures that we have full security for the Palestinians and for the Israelis, as well.
JIM LEHRER: So that means that your government and the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt and others in the Arab world are committing to help the Palestinians find the Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the other organizations that are opposed to the peace process and who have openly claimed responsibility for the terrorist acts?
MARWAN MUASHER: I’m talking about a system in place that not just moves against terrorist people, but that can take effective measures in ensuring a quiet and pass if I’d security situation and ensure that there are no terrorist attacks. Yes. And I also — I’m talking about Israeli commitments on the other side, as I said, humanitarian, economic, as well as withdrawal to ensure that we have elections.
JIM LEHRER: Did you ask President Bush to lean on the Israelis to do the kinds of things that you want done if you are able to do what you’re supposed to, what you commit yourself to do?
MARWAN MUASHER: I think President Bush made it very clear publicly and privately today, that he understands that the issue involves obligations from both sides, he understands that settlements have to stop, he understands that Israeli withdrawal has to take place for elections to take place. He understands that the endgame has to be achieved in three years, and he understands that to do that, both sides have to meet their obligations.
JIM LEHRER: You know, Mr. Minister, there have been meetings and meetings and meetings for years on all of this, and they’re always optimistic — there have been usually optimistic reports like you have just given from this particular meeting. Is there any reason to be particularly optimistic, more optimistic this time than, say, the last time or the time before that and the time before that?
MARWAN MUASHER: I’m not trying to be optimistic or pessimistic here. What I want to say is that everybody in the international community, the U.S., the quartet, Arab states, everyone, is committed now to an endgame in three years. This is new. This has not been there in the past. We are committed to an overall framework to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. We are also committed to a time frame of three years in order to achieve that. That is a new development. But I never, and I will not say that the road to achieve that will be smooth or rosy. What I can say is that we detected today a commitment from the U.S. at the highest level to help us achieve that objective in three years.
JIM LEHRER: All right, Mr. Minister, thank you very much.
MARWAN MUASHER: Thank you.