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President Clinton Comments on Events in the Middle EastAired October 12, 2000 - 1:48 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Peres, I apologize. We have to interrupt. The president of the United States is about to speak on this topic.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES I have just been meeting with my national security team on today's tragic events in the Middle East, and I would like to make a brief statement.
First, as you know, an explosion claimed the lives of at least four sailors on one of our naval vessels, the USS Cole, this morning. Many were injured, a number are still missing. They were simply doing their duty.
This ship was refueling in a port in Yemen while en route to the Persian Gulf. We're rushing medical assistance to the scene, and our prayers are with the families who have lost their loved ones or are still awaiting news.
If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act. We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable.
If their intention was to deter us from our mission of promoting peace and security in the Middle East, they will fail, utterly.
I have directed the Department of Defense, the FBI and the State Department to send officials to Yemen to being the investigation. Secretary Albright has spoken with President Salih of Yemen, and we expect to work closely with his government to that effect.
Our military forces and our embassies in the region have been on heightened state of alert for sometime now. I have ordered our ships in the region to pull out of port and our land forces to increase their security.
Tensions are extremely high today throughout the entire region, as all of you know.
I strongly condemn the murder of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah today. While I understand the anguish Palestinians feel over the losses they have suffered, there can be no possible justification for mob violence.
I call on both sides to undertake a cease-fire immediately, and immediately to condemn all acts of violence.
Finally, let me say this: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the greatest tragedies and most difficult problems of our time, but it can be solved.
The progress of the last few years, progress that brought Israel to the hope of a final peace with true security and the Palestinians to the hope of a sovereign state recognized by the entire world, was not made through violence. It happened because both sides sat down together, negotiated, and slowly built up the trust that violence destroys.
Now is the time to stop the bloodshed, to restore calm, to return to dialogue and ultimately to the negotiating table. The alternative to the peace process is now no longer merely hypothetical. It is unfolding today before our very eyes.
Now I need to go back to work on this. And so I won't take questions right now. But the Department of Defense will offer a briefing today and will be able to answer the questions that are relevant to today's events.
QUESTION: Iraqi troops are moving, Mr. President...
ALLEN: President Clinton stepping out to comment on today's developments -- not taking questions, saying he has more work to do. We will be hearing from the Defense Department, who will take questions -- a somber President Clinton expressing regret over what happened at the Port of Yemen today: the explosion that put a hole aside of the USS Cole, a U.S. Destroyer that had come to refuel in that port.
Again, four people reported killed from the USS Cole; 10 are missing -- 35 injured there. The president called the act despicable and cowardly. He said the United States will find out who's responsible and hold them accountable. And the president also issued the plea for both sides in the Middle East to stop fighting. He said now is the time to stop the bloodshed and restore the calm.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: As we have recently reported, the prime minister of Israel has called off the retaliation for an event earlier in Ramallah at a police station -- the Israeli forces telling us that, initially, it was four, then two reservists made a wrong turn in Ramallah.
And a mob took over at the police station. And we have the first videotape now of the incident that set off the retaliation by Israeli defense forces. This is the police station where the Israeli soldiers were taken to the second floor. I'm seeing this tape for the first time.
One of the soldiers was thrown from the second-story window to the mob. He was beaten to death. Both bodies were turned over to Israeli defense forces. Initially, Israel had said four reservists were in that group. Palestinians said that it was only two soldiers. And this was the event that set off the retaliation at the police station, with helicopter gunships taking a firm aim at this police station and then hitting it with rocket fire, but only after, as Shimon Peres told us earlier today, a warning was issued for civilians to get out of the way.
Shimon Peres' characterization of that reaction was that it was immediate, but it was restrained. He said the Israeli forces are not attacking civilian targets. And again, the Israeli prime minister, after meeting with the Knesset, has called off all activity in Ramallah for the time being. And we are continuing to follow events there very closely -- Natalie.
ALLEN: We have been seeing difficult scenes from the Middle East for the past several days: today certainly no exception from what we just saw.
We're going to go now back to the White House. CNN's John King is covering developments there.
John, just - we just heard from the president for the first time on this heightened violence today.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Natalie, as you rightly mentioned, a very subdued and soft-spoken presidents. Aides describe this as one of the most frustrated as his nearly eight years in office. Obviously, he labeled that suspected terrorist attack on a U.S. Naval vessel a despicable act, in the president's word -- he mentioned that an investigation already under way -- medical and investigative scenes -- teams -- on the way to the scene.
The president met for a little more than an hour in the Situation Room here at the White House with the Defense secretary, William Cohen, the secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, his national security adviser, Sandy Berger -- others here from the White House -- to assess the intelligence information on the attack on the USS Cole -- also to assess those pictures we just saw: the very disturbing developments in the Middle East.
That all the more frustrating to the president, because the reports for the past 36 hours or so had been that the situation on the ground was improving, the United States was planning some form of diplomatic push, perhaps sending special enjoy Dennis Ross or Secretary Albright to the region -- the president on the phones as well.
You heard him deciding not to take questions in the Rose Garden, because the White House believes, on both subjects -- the attack on the USS Cole and the Middle East crisis -- the less said the better right now. But Mr. Clinton did call on all the parties to immediately to agree to a cease-fire, and notably, to immediately and publicly condemn any further violence.
That has been something the United States has been looking for from the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, for more than a week now -- considerable frustration here at the White House that he has not spoken out publicly -- Natalie.
ALLEN: John King at the White House, thank you.
WATERS: We, of course, are continuing to follow this story throughout the day here at CNN. We are expecting to hear from military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, where we're getting more information than other places about just what caused the attack in Yemen, and the fact that Iraqi troops are on the move. What more can we learn about that?
ALLEN: And we will also hear from the secretary of defense, William Cohen, who no doubt will be asked about that as well.
We'll take a break.
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