MARGARET WARNER: To assess Secretary of State Powell's trip, we turn to three men experienced in dealing with the Middle East. Martin Indyk held the top Mid East policy jobs at both the National Security Council and the State Departments during the Clinton Administration, and then served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Robert Malley succeeded Indyk as NSC Director for Near East Affairs in the Clinton Administration. And Raymond Tanter was a senior NSC staffer dealing with the Middle East during the Reagan Administration.
Welcome, gentlemen. Rob Malley, beginning with you, do you think the Powell mission improved the situation over there at all?
ROBERT MALLEY: It would be hard to say that. Whatever the objective may have been, it's hard to see how he reached it. There's no cease-fire. The Israeli troops remain in the cities in which they were. U.S. Credibility is not much higher than it was before, in fact, the fact that President Bush sent him saying he wanted an immediate withdrawal, and still there's no withdrawal, doesn't do much for U.S. Credibility
I think the one silver lining is, marks greater U.S. engagement, which is something many people have been calling for, for quite some time. But that's at best, the one thing one could take out of this that's positive. The main thing is what's going to happen next, and I think the Administration really has a responsibility now.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you share that fairly glum assessment, Martin Indyk?
MARTIN INDYK: Yes, with one exception. I do think that the Secretary of State succeeded in calming what was a very dangerous situation on Israel's northern border with Lebanon. The Israeli army had mobilized, was ready, was basically one Katyusha rocket on an Israeli village away from a major offensive against the Syrians and the Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. And the fact that the Secretary was there, went to Lebanon and Syria, clearly helped to calm that situation. It's been quiet for the last four days, and hopefully it will stay that way.
MARGARET WARNER: Raymond Tanter, of the mission.
RAYMOND TANTER: Yes, not only did...would I agree with Martin Indyk on this point about Lebanon, but I would also suggest that Secretary Powell achieved international consensus behind the U.S. Engagement mandate. He got a mandate from what is called the Madrid Quartet: the United States, the European Union, the Russian Federation, and the United Nations all agreed that the United States should take the lead.
And in addition, there was the situation where the timeline that had been in dispute is further clarified for Israeli withdrawal from the territories. And I think that Powell achieved an accelerated timeline for Israeli withdrawal.
MARGARET WARNER: Martin Indyk, Powell did say today that he did get a timeline, that was his word, for Israeli withdrawal by the end of this weekend. How firm do you think that commitment is?
MARTIN INDYK: Oh, I think it's firm. I don't think that's the problem. The Israelis will pull out, but what Secretary Powell did not succeed in doing was to end the stand-off in Bethlehem, or do something about the situation in Ramallah, where the Israelis are insisting that the murderers of Israeli Cabinet Minister Zeevi, who are with Arafat in his compound, be handed over to them, as well as this fellow, Shebaki, who is responsible for the Iranian arms shipments and funding of terrorist operations. He didn't succeed in dealing with either of those hot spots, nor was he able to succeed in getting any kind of positive momentum going on the security issue, particularly on the Palestinian side.
All that he's left with is a process in which our security people will meet with their security people and do a kind of assessment of what they're capable of. But in the absence of Palestinian actions against the perpetrators of the terrorism and violence, I'm afraid we're going to see the next act will be from them; that is, more suicide bombings.
They may have been set back for a little while, but not for long, and they have a huge incentive to show that Israel's operation didn't succeed, to show that the United States wasn't able to stop it, and to avenge the arrest of one of their leaders, Marwan Barghouti.
MARGARET WARNER: Rob Malley, did you hear any parallel commitment from the Palestinians, or do you think there is any, for even if the withdrawal takes place and even if the Ramallah and Church of the Nativity issues are resolved, that in fact Arafat is ready to give Powell what he went there to get, which was some, you know, commitment to try to rein in terror attacks?
ROBERT MALLEY: Well, not really but I think the situation, one has to sort of look at what's happening there. Number one is the point that Martin Indyk was just making, which is the Palestinian militants, not all of whom who are responding to Arafat's calls, even if he were to make them, they have a great incentive to deny Israel any military victory. And I think that they will do everything in their power to show Israel that it cannot subdue Palestinians by force.
Beyond that, it's hard to think of what the Palestinians could do under these conditions. Chairman Arafat, who is under virtual house arrest now for a long time, or the security services that have been under attack from Israel, for them to turn around and attack their own people.
So I think anyone who is expecting much from the Palestinians or, for that matter, from the Israelis, is really living in a dream. The real responsibility now, whether we like it or not, is on the shoulders of this Administration to do much more, to move towards a political solution, which is the real way to get both sides to disengage. We're not going to get much from either side right now. Neither one has the incentive, and both of them want to continue to fight.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Raymond Tanter, the third leg of the stool, as Secretary Powell laid it out going into this, was to get the Arab states to engage more constructively in some sort of... resolving the violence and a peace process. Did you see any progress on that?
RAYMOND TANTER: I mean, it's very important that the idea of a regional conference be wedded to Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia's proposal or vision for some kind of a land-for-peace deal. And I think what Secretary Powell is trying to do is to create momentum. And as both Rob and Martin know, momentum is the magic of diplomacy. So you have Secretary Burns has left there, Zinni may go back. You have Tenet, who may go in. Powell may himself may go in. So I am very pleased about the momentum.
Of course, as Martin points out, you might have a catastrophic suicide bomber, a la the Passover Seder bombing, which might result in the fact that the Israelis might want to come in and take out Arafat. And he may in fact put his gun to his head and become a martyr himself under that circumstance, and then all hell would break loose, I suspect.
MARGARET WARNER: Rob Malley, this idea of the international conference, which Powell has been floating the last couple of days, do you think that has legs?
ROBERT MALLEY: It really depends on what we're talking about. If we're talking about an open-ended conference where everyone will come and put his idea on the table, we've done that before and it won't lead to anything. In fact, it will just waste more time. I think if we have a conference with a clear agenda, a clear political program that the United States would put on the table with the backing of its Arab partners and European partners, then maybe it's a way to get somewhere.
MARGARET WARNER: I guess what I meant was, do you think that, going to Raymond Tanter's point, that momentum is partially a matter of perception? I think that's what you were saying, that at least Powell has a new idea floating out there that he didn't go with. Is that worth anything or not?
ROBERT MALLEY: Frankly, I don't see much momentum. If I see momentum, it may be in the wrong direction. I think this idea of a conference, again, it's just an idea at this point that will only have legs and will only mean something to the parties in the region if two things happen. One, it has a clear objective: The end of the occupation and the end of the violence; and two, nobody can pick and choose who's going to be there. Chairman Arafat has to be there.
MARGARET WARNER: Martin Indyk…let me get his thoughts on the conference.
MARTIN INDYK: Well, I think that the critical thing here is that the conference is a good idea, provided that it's properly prepared and that it's a summit conference involving the president of the United States. This idea that it's going to be done on the foreign minister level is put out there in the press as a way of finessing the issue of Sharon and Arafat.
But I think it's a way of finessing the president's own lack of interest in what he calls summitry. He doesn't want to do what he saw President Clinton doing, and that is part of the problem here. He's got to get behind this initiative. He was pretty silent for the last four or five days, leaving Colin Powell out there on his own. And that's part of the problem here. The president has to decide that he's going to get involved. When Powell comes back and they sit down and talk, they're not going to find a solution to the problem on the ground at the moment.
And it probably is, I think all three of us agree, it's going to blow. We've got to plan for when it blows, and that's when the international conference as a summit can play a useful role. Crown Prince Abdullah is coming to sit with the president at his ranch.
They need to talk about a partnership that they establish for using the conference as a way of coming forward with a bigger idea that will get Israelis and Palestinians out of this horrendous conflict, and focus on the political horizon that the president has been talking about but hasn't been able to produce a mechanism for getting the parties there. And that's where the conference at the right time can be useful.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, Raymond Tanter, it has to be at that level?
RAYMOND TANTER: Well, no, I think the foreign minister's level would be a good idea. Why? Because then the preparatory meetings would lead to a presidential meeting later. We need to buy time here, Margaret. Time is of essence. I've already said that momentum is the magic of diplomacy, but also time. You want to buy time, and as you buy time you might... something else may develop in which you can launch some kind of diplomatic initiative.
So I think Powell's progress should not be evaluated in terms of he didn't get a cease-fire; he didn't get Israeli withdrawal. He did get what I would call the outer ring of concentric circles to bring pressure on the core. One of the problems with the Clinton Administration is that it worked directly on the problem with the core, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and didn't do enough with respect to the international consensus and the regional Arab League.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, if we go back, though, to having the president as a force, and you started out this discussion, Rob Malley, by saying that was maybe the one silver lining, was that it showed President Bush getting engaged. Does it undercut him, the fact that two weeks ago he called on both Sharon and Arafat to do certain things? They both have still defied him so far. Where does this leave his ability to make things move?
ROBERT MALLEY: It clearly undermines it. I think it shows that when the president asked for something, it could be ignored, and the United States is not prepared to put action where its words are. And right now, the Palestinians certainly believe that when the president says something, it does not translate into effect, and I suspect Israelis may feel the same.
MARGARET WARNER: So then do you disagree with Martin Indyk, when he says, in fact, the president has to get more engaged and...
ROBERT MALLEY: No, on the contrary. I think the Administration has to get more engaged. But for me...
MARGARET WARNER: Then you do agree.
ROBERT MALLEY: I do agree, but the matter is not the level or the intensity of engagement. It's the direction and the purpose of the engagement. And if the engagement is all about getting a cease-fire or getting declarations of cease-fires and partial withdrawals, I don't think it makes much sense. We need high-level engagement, intensive engagement but for a purpose that is actually worthwhile, which is to try to end the conflict. And all these other things, I think, I'm afraid we're just going to be wasting our assets.
MARGARET WARNER: Martin Indyk?
MARTIN INDYK: Well, first of all, I think it's a mistake for the president, after not being engaged for 15 months, to go out, put his prestige on the line, and start wagging his fingers at the parties. That is essentially setting himself up for a fall, which occurred. Again, you know, there has to be preparations for this.
What the president did in that speech, and it was a good speech, was worth a lot, but I think it was squandered because it wasn't prepared properly. And this is the key here: the administration has to establish a strategy. It has to be coming from the president, because it needs his weight and involvement. He has to be behind the Secretary. Ray's...I don't have a problem with Ray's idea of preparations, but we've got to move...be prepared to move towards this summit idea.
And in essence...you see, the problem, Margaret, is that we don't have at the moment a responsible Palestinian partner to deal with. If Arafat had the intentions, which I don't think he does, he doesn't now have the capability to act against the terrorists, and the Israelis don't view him as a partner anymore, across the board. Labor, Likud, whatever, left to right have said that Yasser Arafat is now the enemy. He's not the partner anymore. And they're acting unilaterally to defend themselves, because they don't see that there's anybody on the other side that's prepared to do that.
So Colin Powell, in a sense, went out there. He didn't have two parties to a negotiation, so his chances of being able to succeed with the intent to the cease-fire were basically nil. That's why I think everybody called it mission impossible in the first place.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, brief final word from you, Ray Tanter.
RAYMOND TANTER: Look, Margaret, it's very important to know that the Administration's approach is to find some kind of a cease-fire...a basis for a cease-fire, a cooling-off period, confidence-building measures, and then political negotiations. And now, what I think Secretary Powell is trying to do is to marry those elements together, and that's the American approach.
MARGARET WARNER: We have to leave it there. Thank you all three.