JIM LEHRER: Now, the perspectives of four U.S. Senators. Two members of the Senate foreign relations committee: Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska; and Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut. Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, a member of the Armed Services Committee; and Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania. He returned from the Middle East last Sunday, where he met with Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat and U.S. Special Envoy Anthony Zinni, among others. Senator Hagel, is President Bush doing the right thing?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Absolutely he's doing the right thing. He addressed, I thought rather specifically, directly, clearly this morning what needed to be done by sending Secretary Powell to the Middle East, he is symbolically and substantively bringing certain credibility and a direct link to this President to a direct engagement to the Middle East situation. We have no choice here. There are no risk-free options. We need to get control of this. This is rapidly spinning out of control, and I believe if we don't get control, is headed for an inferno that none of us wish to examine very clearly.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Dodd, do you agree that President Bush took a major step today toward getting control of this situation?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Yeah, absolutely. I have... certainly I join those who have been critical over the fact the Administration seemed to be disengaged from this, had sort of taking the position they were leaving the Middle East on sort of the back burner, as if you could leave it on the back burner.
And so while I'm critical about not taking advantage of what I think is a very fine diplomatic team, not engaging them; that is Secretary Powell, people like Richard Armitage, Ambassador Haus and others, not to mention General Zinni, this was a very positive step, it's a good step, it's an absolutely necessary step. I'm only hopeful that it'll work. This is late in the game.
And obviously, it's going to take U.S. leadership. The President sending the Secretary of State is absolutely essential. I also hope that he'll build on that and call on other members of the international community to join with us in this effort and to reengage the modern Arab states.
I'm very heartened to hear from the Egyptian ambassador about the numerous contacts between President Mubarak and President Bush. That's going to be critically important, that modern Arab states will join President Bush, Colin Powell and others in trying to get a cease-fire in place and a process that will allow the peace efforts that began back, if you will, in the late 1970s or even earlier under President Carter, continued under various administrations, culminating with a Herculean effort of President Clinton in December of 2000, which regrettably this Administration sort of let lie there, did not pick up on that, as I think they should have.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Specter, you just said a moment ago you just got back from that area. Is what you heard from the President today, is it the right agenda, the right ingredients to bring this thing to some kind of conclusion and some kind of peace?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: It is a very significant step forward. I think the President had been engaged when he had General Zinni there. I met a week ago Tuesday with General Zinni, Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat and all three agreed that they were very, very close to an agreement on security arrangements. And then we had the next day the massacre at the Seder, and the situation blew up. And at that time, I this it was necessary to take further action, which the President has done in sending Secretary of State Colin Powell there and in increasing his engagement.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think the impact of sending... whatever the... we'll get to the details here in a moment, but just the fact of sending the Secretary of State there, do you think that means something in and of itself?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, it does because it shows the importance that the United States and President Bush attach to the situation. But General Zinni did a very, very good job, but the basic fact is that people pay more attention to Colin Powell than to Anthony Zinni.
And when Secretary Powell is on the scene, also it's broadened beyond security to take up the political questions, to talk about a Palestinian state, to try to bring some hope to the Palestinians that we will move forward on the issues of boundaries and settlements and try to get something done for the long term. It's very significant.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Reed, what did you think of what the President's doing today?
SEN. JACK REED: I thought it was absolutely necessary. The situation had deteriorated so much and the future was getting to be rather bleak, that he had to step in to just simply change the dynamic, to hope that his involvement will get the parties, both the Israel and the Palestinian Authority to think again about what their long-term goals are and to recognize that they can't achieve anything they want unless they cooperate together.
And so I think his speech today was a fine speech. His involvement will grow, I suspect, over the next few weeks and months. Secretary Powell alone is not going to be the answer. It has to be the involvement of the President, also.
JIM LEHRER: You heard the reactions that we just got from the Egyptian ambassador and the Israeli ambassador. What was your reaction to that in terms of how this is... and also we reported earlier what Arafat had said -- but the Israeli military movements continued in the West Bank specifically. How do you feel the reaction is so far?
SEN. JACK REED: I think the reaction so far is a very positive one. I think that all sides have been waiting for the President to speak, and his comments today were I think balanced. He recognized and expressed that both sides have to be to work together ultimately, that this issue that has been plaguing the region for more than a time that we can all recall, will only be settled with this cooperation.
I think also the ambassador from Israel's comments that will operation will end and hopefully end before Secretary Powell arrives in the region is a positive one. And also, the President emphasized that the state of Israel has to recognize the legitimate political aspirations that the Palestinian Authority has.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Hagel, on the specifics, to your ear, did you hear the President ask the right things of each side to do in order to make peace?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Oh, I think so, Jim. Certainly we could take this down two or three more levels. But what the President sought to accomplish today, I think he did accomplish, and that was to address very clearly in a very plain spoken manner what he expected to happen from the Israelis, the Palestinians and maybe most of all... most important, the other Arab leaders in the Middle East.
We need these moderate Arab leaders to step up here. Yes, there's risk for them, I understand that, but there's risk for everybody. But there is far more risk for all of us if we don't all engage now and find a way out of this.
And it's not just the cessation of the violence, but it's also concurrent to that a political process that gets us back on to a track where we can get over the horizon and accomplish eventually the objective of allowing two peoples to leave in peace and therein, I think, unfortunately, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah's proposal has been blurred and lost. We need to focus back and anchor on something like that.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Dodd, the President was very forceful in addressing each side. He said, "I want you to do this, I want you to do that." Does he have the clout? Does the United States have the clout to force both of these sides to do what he wants them to do?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, I thought his language was terrific. I think it was a real lecture. He expected them to act as leaders. Maybe I'm not quoting him exactly, but almost those words. And whether or not it's the prestige obviously of the United States and the significance, the influence economically, politically today, and the end of the Cold War and so forth, it's... no one else can do it.
Whether or not this President can or the United States can, as I say, it's late. I think we all agree this is late in the game, but certainly no one else could. And so I believe he can, and I think again, something Arlen Specter said a minute ago I think is very worthwhile taking note of, and that is the presence of Colin Powell brings into the picture not just the security element, but the political element.
And for too long a time, the position was that we would not begin to negotiate or even talk in the absence of an end to the terrorism. And obviously, that's an ideal situation. But Colin Powell has said himself, and I agree with him, that unfortunately here, that's not going to be the case. We've got to have engage in the political diplomatic side even while some of this violence is going on.
And lastly, I would just say, again, I think the President said again today, when he talked about that 17- or 18-year-old Palestinian girl who armed herself with dynamite or explosives and blew her herself up and kills the 17-year-old Israeli girl in a café, they are killing the future. And this idea that it's only about terrorism or only about occupation is an oversimplification. It's about both of those issues, but it's far more complicated and that than that and the President I think was saying that today.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Specter, do you agree with Senator Dodd that whether either side likes it or not, this has to be both a political issue and a security issue at the same time now -- you can't put a fine point on it one way or another?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Oh, absolutely. We have to move to the political side. There is one thing, if I may supplement just a bit here, that I think the President should have added. That was a very firm call for Arafat to tell his followers to stop the suicide bombings and to stop the violence. When I was in Israel a week ago Tuesday, I carried the message from General Zinni to Chairman Arafat that there ought to be a forceful, plain, unequivocal statement to stop the suicide bombings and the violence. I think that is an indispensable pre-condition to have Israel withdraw.
JIM LEHRER: You mean you don't think... excuse me. You don't think Israel should start withdrawing its troops in accordance with the President's request today until some statement from Arafat like that comes out?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, I think that it would have been a unique time for the President to press Arafat to make that statement, and I would make it a condition. Look here...
JIM LEHRER: A condition? Who should make that as a condition?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, I think that that should have been a condition for Israeli withdrawal. Right now, Israel is pursuing the terrorists in a military operation as a matter of self-defense to stop those who are supporting the suicide bombers. The very regrettable fact is that civilians are being killed.
When we bombed Yugoslavia, inevitably when you go after a military target, there are going to be civilians injured. And that is regrettable, but what Israel is facing right now is a military operation to find the terrorists, to root them out and to stop the suicide bombings so that the step for Arafat to make that clear, unequivocal statement, I think is very important, and had I been making that statement, I would have put that as a condition.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Reed, what do you think about that idea, that there should be conditions here now, rather than just to start going full blast?
SEN. JACK REED: Well, I think we've been dealing with a prelude to a settlement for a long time, conditions here and conditions there. I think what is important is that the President laid it out -- is that both sides recognize, one, that the Palestinians have to stop the suicide attacks, and two, that Israel has to stop its incursion into Palestinian areas. Conditions on both sides I think would lead us right back to where we are today, nowhere. I think the President laid it out very well, and I think we should proceed on that basis.
JIM LEHRER: And you think Secretary Powell can go to the Middle East and say, "All right, no conditions here, you start-- if as you said earlier, the Israeli ambassador said, it could be that they will have started the withdrawal by the time Powell gets there. But let's say they haven't, and he should feel free to say, "Okay, Israel, you start withdrawing and okay, Arafat, you get tougher here and there?"
SEN. JACK REED: Well, I think clearly start right now, in fact even before the President's speech there were efforts by our government to encourage, persuade, both the Palestinians to do what they have to do, which is to stop these terrible suicide bombings on the people of Israel. And also, as the President indicated today, that Israel recognizes that their incursions have to be broken off as soon as possible. I think, as we put more conditions on what they'll do, we'll see them do less.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, Senator Hagel, pick up on a point that Senator Dodd made a while ago that some Americans may not understand, which is why is it that only the United States of America has any chance of stopping this thing from spiraling out of control any further than it is already?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: I think probably two primary reasons: One, we are the one nation in the world that has some confidence, some trust, some credibility by both sides here, by both the Arabs and the Israelis. Imperfect, imprecise, we made our mistakes like everyone else. Second, we are the only nation that has been committed to a peaceful resolution in the Middle East consistently since 1948.
And I would add a third and maybe sometimes this is the downside of it, but we are a powerful nation that can bring coalitions together, and it is in the interest not just of the United States but all of the world and humanity to try to work this through. I think those are the three primary reasons we are the one nation uniquely positioned to be able to do something about this. And there will be no peace in the Middle East without the United States engaged leadership.
JIM LEHRER: In a word, Senator Specter, I take it you would agree with that?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, I do. But beyond that, every nation in the world looks to the United States for something they want from the United States. We give very substantial funding, almost $2 billion a year, to Egypt. The Saudis want something from us. The Israelis want something from us. The Syrians want more trade. Everywhere you look, the United States is a superpower, has something to offer, and they don't lose sight of that. And that influences them very heavily, and just the fact that we are such a tremendous superpower carries great, great weight.
JIM LEHRER: Only us, Senator Dodd?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, not only us. As I said a moment ago, Jim, I think it's us leading, but you've got to involve these other countries, and particularly the European community and moderate Arab states. I think Russia could play a very important role here. This is not a go-it-alone situation.
What is critically important, Madeleine Albright made I think a very apt analogy about this situation in the Middle East. She said it's like riding a bicycle. You've just got to keep pedaling even if it goes in a circle, keep pedaling, because if you stop pedaling, the bike stops and falls.
In a sense, what happened here is we didn't keep pedaling the bicycle and over the years there's been a success of administrations that that have constantly moved the ball forward. It's been moved back from time to time, but we're getting closer all the time, came so close with Barak and Arafat back in the late 2000.
JIM LEHRER: All right, we have to leave it there.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: I'm sorry.
JIM LEHRER: No. That's all right. All four, thank you very much.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Nice being with you. Thank you.