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Office of the Spokesman

For Immediate Release On-The-Record Briefing


Secretary Of State Colin L. Powell


March 29, 2002, Washington, D.C., (12:45 p.m. EST)


SECRETARY POWELL:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. The President and his national security team have been following the very serious situation in the Middle East since last night.  Early this morning we began a National Security Council meeting which included the President via television remote, as well as the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, myself of course, the Director of Central Intelligence Mr. Tenet, National Security Advisor Rice and Chief of Staff Andy Card.

Last night also I was in a conference call with the President and Dr. Rice to review the situation, and immediately after talking to the President I also had the opportunity to talk to Prime Minister Sharon, who is in the middle of a cabinet meeting, as you know, in Israel. In that conversation with Prime Minister Sharon, he advised me that the cabinet was meeting to decide what action the Israeli Government should take in response to the recent spate of terror incidents, and he also advised me that of whatever actions they might decide to take, it would not include bringing any harm to Chairman Arafat or killing him. And subsequent statements by Israeli officials suggest that it is not their intention either to capture him.

They have determined to isolate him and, as you know, Israeli Defense Forces are now operating in Ramallah and there has been a significant call-up of Israeli Defense Forces.  I have a call in to Chairman Arafat and hope I will have a chance to reach him right after this press conference. General Zinni remains in the region, and he and our diplomatic representatives in the region are in touch with both Israeli and Palestinian officials.  General Zinni did speak to Chairman Arafat earlier today.

Once again, terrorism -- terrorism that targets innocent civilians -- has dealt a serious blow to the effort to achieve a cease-fire, and to find a political solution to the crisis in the Middle East. Once again, terrorists have set back the vision of the Palestinian people for a state that would live in peace side by side with Israel.  The United States government condemns these acts of terror, and those responsible for them.

In recent weeks, there was cause for some guarded optimism.  As you know, beginning last fall the President put down his vision at the United Nations for a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with a Jewish state, Israel. We also saw positive reaction to the speech that I gave in Louisville, and then just a couple of weeks ago, the United Nations passed an important Security Council resolution, introduced by the United States.  And it went through the Security Council in a record period of time -- with a vote of 14-0 and only one abstention, Syria -- calling for a state for the Palestinian people.

The Arab summit in Beirut earlier this week, while it did not provide a complete solution, it laid out a vision, a bold vision, what was put forward by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. And it was embraced by all of the Arab nations.  Prime Minister Sharon in recent weeks showed a great deal of flexibility with respect to conditions he had previously held to with respect to what it would take to get into the Tenet work plan.  Both sides welcomed General Zinni's return to get the Tenet work plan started, which would then lead to the Mitchell process and the political solution, the political discussions and negotiations that we all are hoping for. The Vice President paid a trip to the region and was prepared to see Chairman Arafat if circumstances had permitted.

So there was reason for guarded optimism.  And let's be clear about what brought it all to a halt: terrorism. Terrorism on the part of those who would target innocent civilians. Innocent civilians going about their daily lives -- shopping, trying to assemble in a restaurant to celebrate an important occasion in their religious life.  That it what has caused this crisis to come upon us -- not the absence of a political way forward, but terrorism in its rawest form.

The President, I, all my colleagues, the United States people condemn in the strongest possible terms this series of terror attacks, including this morning's Jerusalem bombings and the other acts of terrorism which have killed innocent Israeli civilians.

We have spoken out clearly, and do so again now, for Chairman Arafat to act, act against those responsible for these acts and to make clear to the Palestinian people that terror and violence must halt now. All those who support peace must reinforce this message. The international community is delivering this message. I ask Arab nations to deliver this message.  I ask my colleagues in the European Union and nations around the world to deliver this powerful message.

The President and I are gravely concerned at the situation today in Ramallah. We deplore the killing and wounding of innocent Palestinians there.  While we understand the Israeli Government need to respond to these acts of terror and the right of the Israeli Government to decide what actions best serve the interests of the Israeli people, we call on Prime Minister Sharon and his government to carefully consider the consequences of those actions.

Chairman Arafat is the leader of the Palestinian people, and his leadership is now even more central to trying to find a way out of this tragic situation. In addition to Prime Minister Sharon, I will be in touch and have been in touch already, but will continue to be touch in the course of the day and the weekend, with other Arab leaders besides those that I have already been in touch with, as well as the European Union, and I will be placing a call also to the United Nations Secretary General Mr. Kofi Annan.

At this critical moment, we call upon our friends throughout the international community to condemn terror unequivocally. We cannot lose sight of our goal. Despite the tragedy we see unfolding now on this holy week, we must not lose sight of the goal.  We have to achieve an enduring and comprehensive peace for Arabs and Israelis alike.  This is the future. This is what we must achieve.  And although things look dark now, we must have hope and we must continue to work, and work hard.

General Zinni, for that reason, will remain in the region. He received a commitment in principle from the Israeli Government to move forward into the Tenet work plan on the basis of the proposal put down by General Zinni.  I think we were close to getting a similar commitment from the Palestinian side when these acts of terror disrupted the whole process.  And we will see what happens in the days ahead.

The United States Government will be examining this situation in the days ahead to see what other steps we might take, and I can assure you that President Bush and his national security advisors will be following this on an hour-by-hour basis.

Thank you.

QUESTION:  Secretary Powell, your comments were rather long on criticism on Chairman Arafat but rather short on what you think about the Israeli actions in Ramallah, particularly the strafing of Chairman Arafat's headquarters and, in fact, the occupation -- the reoccupation -- itself.

Are you looking for the Israelis to withdraw from Ramallah?

SECRETARY POWELL:  The Israelis have said to me that it is not their intention to occupy any of these areas -- and the only are that they are in at the moment is Ramallah -- for some extended period.  They are going in to find terrorists, to pick up weapons, and it is not their intention to occupy these places on any long-term basis. We ask the Israelis to show the necessary restraint with respect to that activity, so that they do not put Chairman Arafat's life in danger, and they minimize loss of life with respect to civilians.

It's a very difficult situation. Israel is trying to defend itself. We had a process moving forward; we had some success over the past week or two.  And then suddenly, the bombing of the night before last, the bombing again today, the random shootings, the murder of Israeli citizens; all -- all -- all done by terrorists who do not want to see peace. They don't want to see a solution to this problem. They are determined to destroy this process, and we must not let them. We have to keep working, and work hard.

QUESTION:  Do you suppose any of the accomplishments of General Zinni in the past few days are salvageable?  Or does he have to start from scratch?

SECRETARY POWELL:  I don't know; we'll have to wait and see. General Zinni was quite encouraged by the progress he was making up until we had the massacre the other night. And so we'll have to wait and see what the days ahead bring.  But we're going to continue to work hard to see if we can bring some stability and order to this, and then move forward.

People are always asking, don't you need a political answer to this? Don't you need a political process?  The political process is there, staring us in the face. It's contained in the Mitchell plan. It's contained in a commitment on the part of both sides to enter negotiations on the basis of 242 and 338 as you go through Mitchell.

But nothing can get started, no political process can take hold, in the presence of this kind of continued terrorist activity.

One more, and then I have to leave.

QUESTION:  Sir, some might say that extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures. And what you've outlined today seems to be keeping your envoy in the region and making phone calls from here. I wonder if you can describe whether anything beyond that -- what is being contemplated? What kind of steps -- for example, buffer forces, troops, peacekeepers, a more physical personal diplomacy? A trip to the region by yourself, for example?

SECRETARY POWELL:  Well, there is nothing we are not considering. I mean, personal diplomacy, we just had the Vice President out there talking to everybody in the region and trying to help in this difficult situation. We're not ruling anything out.

But I'm not prepared to make any announcements right now.  I'm willing to go when there is a reason to go and a purpose to be served.

Thank you.


12:56 p.m. EST

See for all remarks by the Secretary of State.

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See also Ha`aretz commentary