Bush Appraises Powell Trip

This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, April 18, 2002 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.


The Weekly Standard


At the White House today, the president gave his assessment of the Powell trip, with the secretary of state sitting at his right. And here is how the president characterized the situation.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The short-term responsibilities are these: the Palestinian Authority must act on its condemnation of terror. The Israelis are withdrawing from Jenin and Nablus and they must continue their withdrawals.

And neighbors in the region must condemn terror, cut off funding for terror. Must make it clear that people who suicide bomb are not martyrs. They kill and murder innocent people.


HUME: All right. Let's take an inventory from everybody about where the Bush policy now appears to stand. He sent the secretary of state. He was importuned, I think it's fair to say, by Arabs and Europeans alike, to get involved. So he sends his heaviest hitter.

And the president was seeming therefore to be really pressuring Israel, pressuring the Palestinians, too. Fred, has that changed now?

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: What, pressuring Israel? Yes, absolutely changed. He sounded sympathetic, even, to Prime Minister Sharon for surrounding the Ramallah headquarters of Yasser Arafat, where he's kept him a prisoner for weeks and weeks now. And noting that there were five terrorists who — at least the Israelis believe, who were responsible for assassinating that cabinet member, what, last winter, anyway.

So clearly he's satisfied with the Israelis. He wants Yasser Arafat not just to talk the talk, but to walk the walk. And he hasn't gotten squat yet out of any of the moderate Arab countries. But he may have a chance a week from now, when Crown Prince Abdullah comes to Crawford, Texas, to meet with him.

HUME: Of Saudi Arabia.

BARNES: Of Saudi Arabia. There, the question is whether he will lean on Abdullah, which I think he will, or just try to accommodate Abdullah.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yes, I think the policy has definitely changed. He also called Sharon a man of peace today.

BARNES: He did.

LIASSON: And don't forget the three things that he just laid down in that sound bite were different than the three things he originally said. He wanted Israel to withdraw immediately. Now he just says Israel must continue its withdrawal, and it is.

HUME: He said the word immediately, as I recall. Without delay.

LIASSON: Without delay. I think later it was described as what that means, it means...

HUME: By a bunch of reporters.

LIASSON: Yes. But also, I think, by the White House when they clarified that. But the point is, he's clearly happy with Sharon, unhappy with Arafat, so far, because he hasn't acted on the condemnation. And so far he's gotten nothing from the Arab countries. I agree with Fred. I think the policy...


HUME: Nothing we can see.

LIASSON: Yes, I agree with Fred, that I think the policy has changed. It's more pro-Israel, kind of back to what it was before.

JEFF BIRNBAUM, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Yes. I think clearly, the effort by the moderate wings, such as there is one in the Bush administration, headed by Powell, to try to balance this a little bit and to be balanced, is over.

The harder line folks who do back Sharon and back what Sharon is doing against terrorists, much the way we have gone after terrorists, that wing of the Bush administration, I think, is triumphant. And this response, this new policy, is what has come of that, that the U.S. policy is now: We've tried negotiation. We have to allow Sharon to be Sharon, basically. and that's what's going on here.

The one discordant part of this statement, at least to my ear, was Bush is continuing to use word "must." The Israelis must, the Palestinians must. I think that what the last week and a half have shown, is that the president doesn't have the power to impose any sort of solution, or even any sort of behavior in the Middle East. As much as we would like to have that true, it's just not true in the modern Middle East.

BARNES: Yes, it never has been, really. Actually — look, I think the policy was always to tilt to Israel anyway. Bush likes Sharon. He doesn't like Arafat, and so on. He doesn't like terrorism. The Palestinians practice terrorism. And Arafat has refused to crack down on the terrorists, which is of course why Sharon and the Israeli troops are there in the first place, because he won't crack down on them.

There was an even more interesting statement last night by Vice President Cheney at the Israeli embassy in Washington, you know, when they were celebrating independence day. And he said — he had thanked Sharon when he was in the Middle East last month for the Israeli support in the war we are fighting against terrorism. And he added this: Israelis have lived at the front lines of this struggle for decades. In other words, saying this is the same struggle. Israel's war on terrorism is the same as America's war on terrorism.

LIASSON: All of that is music to the ears of the Israelis. Everything that Bush has been saying in the last couple of days is probably very unpleasant for the Palestinians and the Arab leaders to hear.

BIRNBAUM: That's right. And the perfect proof of that was that Powell was shunned by Mubarak when he went to Egypt. That was a clear indication about who has the upper hand in our policy now.

BARNES: Those Arabs have given Powell nothing to work with. And Arafat hasn't either.

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