Kerry says his views on Palestinian leader have shifted
* Calls Arafat ‘an outlaw to ME peace process’
TAMPA: John Kerry says he no longer considers Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to be a statesman, but rather “an outlaw to the peace process” in the Middle East who has been rightly shuffled aside.
In a 1997 book, Kerry described “Arafat’s transformation from outlaw to statesman.” But in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday he said he no longer views Arafat favourably.
“Obviously, Yasser Arafat has been an impediment to the peace process,” said Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting. “He missed a historic opportunity and he’s proved himself to be irrelevant.”
The Bush administration has ruled out dealing with Arafat, a veteran Palestinian activist, claiming he is tainted with terror against Israel, a close US ally. In the peace process, the administration has dealt only with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other senior Palestinian officials appointed by Arafat.
Referring to the Palestinian leader as a statesman would be potentially damaging in Florida, which has a heavy Jewish population and a Democratic primary Tuesday. Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas also hold primaries Tuesday. “He was (a statesman) in 1995,” Kerry said, recalling frequent White House meetings between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in search of peace in the Middle East.
“He blew his opportunity in 1999, 2000,” Kerry said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s an outlaw to the peace process.” In the wide-ranging interview, Kerry touched on a variety of topics, including the contentious nature of the campaign against President George W Bush, foreign policy and his process for choosing a running mate.
Of the campaign against Bush, he said, “It’s not personal.” “He’s an enjoyable person to be with,” Kerry said. “He’s funny and so forth, but he doesn’t keep his promises.” Kerry added: “It has nothing to do with him being a good man, bad man. I’m not here to judge him personally, that’s up to other people, that’s up to God.” In discussing foreign policy, the Massachusetts senator said he couldn’t guarantee that Saddam Hussein would now be out of power in Iraq if he had been president over the past year.
“I can’t tell you that,” said Kerry, who faults Bush for not allowing continued UN inspections in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction Saddam was said to be hiding. “If we had exhausted that process and built a legitimate coalition and Saddam Hussein had not complied, I would not have hesitated to march with that coalition against him,” said Kerry. “You don’t know how an appropriate global coalition with the proper amount of patience might have coerced him into a different set of behaviours.” —AP