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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Ehud Olmert

Aired August 27, 2003 - 20:44   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Renewed violence in the Middle East is raising some serious questions about the latest U.S.-sponsored peace initiatives. Some say the road map to peace may have reached a dead end.
Joining us now to discuss the situation is Israel's vice prime minister, Ehud Olmert. Nice to see you in town for change.

EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI VICE PRIME MINISTER: Hi.

ZAHN: Is the road map dead?

OLMERT: No. But it's frozen for a period of time. See, the main ingredient of a framework of the road map was the war against terror. This was a pre-condition agreed by us, by the Palestinians, naturally by the American president.

It was clear that first we have to remove terror so that we can move forward with peace. Now, the Palestinians unfortunately not fighting terror the way they should have. They have committed themselves to do it but they don't do it. So we have to fight terror.

ZAHN: What does it mean to you today that Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat called upon various Palestinian groups to honor the crease-fire?

OLMERT: No more than a tasteless joke. Arafat is the greatest instigator of terror. He's the one that incites the organizations, that finances them, that inspires them, and that gives hostage (ph) to the terrorists who are directly and on a daily basis responsible for perpetrating the terrorist activities.

ZAHN: You know doubt have heard the Palestinian counter argument, that Yasser Arafat, if he could, would clamp down on these groups. He is simply not capable, they say, because the Israelis have so compromised the ability of their police forces to get the job done.

OLMERT: You know, in Gaza, to give you just one example, they have 20,000 security guys fully equipped with all the most modern equipment that is needed to fight against terror. And they have only 1,000 Hamas people.

Now, tell me, why don't they fight them? What prevents them from fighting them? They have everything that they need to fight except one thing, the will to fight. ZAHN: Meanwhile, you also have militant groups calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas or even the self exile. Will he survive this politically?

OLMERT: We hope that he will survive. We certainly encourage him to take the necessary measures to be able to face these dangers.

The situation is not easy. The situation of any leader in the Middle East is not easy.

Sharon is taking enormous political risk by accepting the road map in spite of what we know about the Palestinian Authority and what they have committed over the last three years. He's ready to do it against a very strong opposition.

Abu Mazen has got to do only one thing, to fight terror. That's what he needs to do. And we will not tolerate terror that they are perpetrating against us.

ZAHN: But you have to concede two-thirds of the security forces are now under the control of Yasser Arafat and not under Mahmoud Abbas. So how is he going to do that? Is it realistic to think he can do anything about it?

OLMERT: That's a good question, if he can do. Then, I mean, what exactly is the role of the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority? So this is a serious question.

If Arafat prevents him from doing it because he controls part of the security forces, then there is another question: what is Arafat doing and what all of us should do in order to remove this nuisance, which Arafat is.

ZAHN: You talked a lot about how stopping terrorism is a key component of this road map. The Palestinians would argue that Israel has not lived up to its end of the agreement so far in freezing settlement growth, in dismantling some 60 settlement outposts it has built in the West Bank since March of 2001. Why hasn't that happened?

OLMERT: Oh, that's not accurate. We have dismantled most of the unauthorized outposts against a very strong political position. Only last week we did again.

It's tough, but we are doing it because we have made a commitment. And we have released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in spite of the continued terror. So I don't think that anything that we have to do is at this point an impediment to the peace process.

ZAHN: So, basically, you're saying the Palestinians are lying when they say that you have not frozen settlement growth?

OLMERT: Why use such harsh terms...

ZAHN: What word would you use?

OLMERT: ... when we can say that they are grossly inaccurate. ZAHN: Ehud Olmert, thank you very much for dropping by our studios tonight.

OLMERT: Thank you.

ZAHN: And good luck to you all.

OLMERT: Thank you.

ZAHN: We'll be right back.

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