Discusses Middle East with Vice President and Secretary of State
The Rose Garden
The White House
March 7, 2002
4:15 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I'm deeply concerned about the tragic loss of
life and escalating violence in the Middle East. This is a matter of great interest
to the United States and all who want peace in the region and in the world.
There is a road map to peace. The Tenet security work plan will bring parties
together to reduce the violence, improve the security situation and return to
the path of peace. The Tenet work plan is the first step towards implementing
the Mitchell Committee report in full, and resuming a political process between
I'm committed to working with our partners in the region and around the world
in the pursuit of this goal. The United States has a vision of a Middle East
in which all people -- Arabs and Israelis -- can live as neighbors, in full
peace and security.
Recent ideas put forth by the Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia have created
an opening for discussing this broader peace and for the normalization of relations
between Arab states and Israel. The United States is committed to exploring
Because of our commitment to peace, I'm sending General Tony Zinni back to the
region next week to work with Israel and the Palestinians to begin implementing
the Tenet work plan so that the parties can renew their efforts for a broader
peace. The United States will do all it can to help the government of Israel
and the Palestinian Authority restore hope to their people and to the region.
I once again call upon Chairman Arafat to make maximum effort to end terrorism
against Israel, which undermines the prospects for peace. And as we move forward,
I'm counting on all parties in the region -- Prime Minister Sharon included
-- to do everything they can to make these efforts a success.
The violence and tragic loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives must end. Families
on both sides of the conflict share this goal. And so does my country. Peace
and stability will be an important topic of the Vice President's upcoming trip
to the region. I've asked him to join me today.
Mr. Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. President. I'm looking forward to leaving
Sunday on a 10-day, 12-country swing through the region. Obviously, one of the
subjects I'll be discussing with my hosts are the efforts that General Zinni
will undertake and the approach to the Tenet and the Mitchell plans that the
President's outlined here today, as well as Crown Prince Abdullah's initiatives.
The peace process is not the only thing on my agenda. The trip's been planned
for some time and there are a number of other issues that we'll talk about,
including the continuing war on terrorism. I plan to visit troops and spend
time talking about bilateral issues, as well, with host countries. And I'll
have the opportunity to brief the traveling press corps tomorrow in greater
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Mr. President, and Mr. Vice President. I'm very
pleased that General Zinni has again shown his willingness to serve his nation
and to go once again to the Middle East to try to get the Tenet work plan started.
It is a work plan that will allow both sides to get into security consultations,
so we can get the violence under control, down to zero, start to restore confidence
between the two sides, end the killing, and then move to a political settlement
that is an outcome of the Mitchell process.
I hope both sides will respond to General Zinni when he arrives in the region.
And we'll be in close consultation with both sides, as well as all of our friends
in the region in the immediate days ahead.
Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: I'll answer a few questions. Morris.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you said all along that the two sides need to break
the cycle of violence. There's been a lot of false hopes. The violence continues
even today. What assurances do you have, if any, that the two sides are now
willing to take that step and break the cycle?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we've had a lot of consultations over the last week and
week-and-a-half. We've been on the phone a lot. And we believe now's the time
for General Zinni to move back into the region. There are no assurances. That
is not going to prevent our government from trying, trying to get the parties
to agree to Tenent, trying to reduce the cycle of violence.
Obviously, there's a reason why, and that is because as a result of consultations,
we believe there's a possibility that we can have an impact. And so the combination
of General Zinni's trip and the Vice President's trip may have a positive impact.
Yes, John. Then Terry.
QUESTION: Mr. President, your Secretary of State had some rather stern words
for Israel yesterday. Do you believe that Ariel Sharon, engaging in his current
policies, has become an obstacle to peace?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I read the Secretary's comments, and it sounded like he
had pretty tough words for all parties. He's concerned about the level of violence,
like I am. He made it clear that Chairman Arafat needs to do a better job of
reducing violence, of using his leadership role to reduce violence. He's also
deeply concerned, as am I, about the retaliation, the escalation. It's hard
to achieve peace when violence is escalating. And one of the reasons why we're
sending Zinni back, and one of the reasons why I hope the Vice President's trip
will have a positive effect is because our message is to both sides, reduce
As I mentioned in my remarks, Chairman Arafat must do everything he can to reduce
the violence, to stop the spread of violence. We don't believe he's doing enough.
And so I thought that the Secretary's comments were wisely balanced.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you believe that the continuing and escalating violence
is an indication of failure on the part of your administration in the approach
you've taken of refraining to send General Zinni, of not yourself talking to
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I think what the escalating violence shows is that there
people who believe in terror as a way of life, people who refuse to allow a
peace process to go forward, people who don't want peace in the region. And
our government is committed to saying to those folks, we will do everything
in our power to stop you from preventing a peace process from going forward.
It is -- and the first step toward any political solution has got to be the
Tenet plan. George Tenet, obviously, works for the United States government;
he's the person that laid out the plan. There is a road map for a peaceful solution.
It's going to take a lot of effort by a lot of people, and we're willing to
put in the effort and believe that General Zinni's trip can make a difference.
QUESTION: Mr. President, why are you personally only talking to one side in
this conflict? Why don't you reach out to Chairman Arafat?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I believe the administration speaks with one voice, and we've
got ample amplification to both parties. And our strategy is a well-thought-out
strategy. It's one that reminds both parties there's an obligation to seek peace.
I fully understand the Israelis' perspective that they want to defend themselves.
That's why I've constantly called on Mr. Arafat to do a better job of reining
in those who would wreak havoc on Israel. I also agree with the Secretary of
State that it is going to be very hard to achieve a peaceful settlement if there
is a tendency to want to constantly find a reason to escalate. And we hope that
the Zinni mission will help get to Tenet, and that's what our focus is. Our
focus is to get the parties into a process that the world agrees is a good process.
QUESTION: Mr. President, how is the Saudi plan an opening if it's based on things
that the Israelis have long rejected?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, they cannot reject the notion of Crown Prince
Abdullah that says, we recognize Israel's right to exist. I think that's an
important opening, and I think that's an important statement by Crown Prince
Secondly, it's a position that I took, as well, at the United Nations, when
I said that there ought to be a Palestinian state -- the borders of which, by
the way, ought to be negotiated between the two parties -- but both states recognize
each other's right to exist.
And it's an opening. The Crown Prince's decision to make that statement provides
an opening. And that's another reason why the Zinni mission is going forward.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you've consistently called on Mr. Arafat to make, as
you said today, a maximum effort. What seems to be new this week is the administration's
skepticism about Mr. Sharon. Are you worried, sir, that retaliation seems to
be the only policy that he has in mind?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I fully understand a nation's wanting to defend
herself, and I appreciate that. After all, we're in defense of ourself right
now. And I can understand the strong desire to enhance security for a people.
And I believe that.
I believe what we're saying, though, is that there's got to be a vision for
peace. There's got to be more than security, that there's got to be an attempt
to achieve a lasting peace. And I hope that my friend, Prime Minister Sharon,
agrees with that assessment. I think he does. I think he recognizes that you
can't achieve peace by allowing violence to escalate or causing violence to
escalate. So, on the one hand, I fully understand his need to protect the people
of Israel. And, on the other hand, we look forward to working with him to get
into the Tenet plan.
He thought the Tenet plan was a good plan. He agreed that the Mitchell plan
is the proper course of action. And now we've got to work hard to get into it.
QUESTION: Mr. President, could I ask you about the corporate responsibility
measures you put forward?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
QUESTION: Some Democrats are saying that they kind of fall far short of what's
needed, and they say your own Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, was pushing
for stronger measures, lowering the bar for punishment for corporate leaders.
THE PRESIDENT: I think what they ought to do is look at -- look at my proposals,
take a good, hard look at them. They were very sound, solid proposals. It's
the first -- first formal package laid out for the American people to analyze
about how to reform corporate governance.
I think it's also very important to make sure that, as we reform corporate governance,
we don't encourage frivolous lawsuits. I think it's very difficult to have a
vibrant society in the free enterprise sector that is riddled with massive lawsuits
all the time. And so I want to have a balanced plan. And I put one out. I'm
proud of it. And it would make a lot of sense, and I hope Congress acts on it.
QUESTION: Mr. President, is the recession over now? And, looking back, do you
think we actually ever really had one?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's a trick question, Patsy. And I appreciate you throwing
that out there. (Laughter.) See, I actually read clips from other parts of the
world before I came out here today. So, nice try.
There's no question our economy was hurt by the attacks on 9/11. We'll let the
statisticians define what happened or what didn't happen. But our economy went
through a massive slowdown. And people's lives were badly affected, and a lot
of people were laid off.
And that's why the House did the right thing today, and the Senate now needs
to act. The House passed a very good bill. It's a bill that not only takes care
of unemployed workers, it is a bill that has got some economic stimulus as a
major part of it. And now the Senate needs to do something. The Senate needs
to act and get the bill to my desk, and I look forward to signing it.
But we've had too much -- too much non-movement on this important issue. And
it's time to go. It's time to get a bill, and it's time for me to end the press
conference. (Laughter.) Thank you.