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Sunday, 3 December, 2000, 14:46 GMT
Senator George Mitchell
DECEMBER 3rd, 2000

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Yet again this weekend there's been another killing also in the Middle East, yesterday Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian in the West Bank. The mounting crisis in Israel comes as a Peace Commission goes out there to visit the region to investigate and to report on the past few weeks of violence, the group is led by Senator George Mitchell who did so much for the peace process in Northern Ireland and last night I spoke to Senator Mitchell from New York and I began by asking him how he felt going from one peace process, one crisis, to another?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well it's going to be interesting, I look forward to what will be a challenging but important assignment and I hope that we'll be able to make at least some modest contribution toward the peace process in the Middle East.

DAVID FROST: Elections have now been called in Israel for May, does that make a difference to your visit?

GEORGE MITCHELL: It does not insofar as I know we intend to work with the current government, we expect there to be an office certainly beyond the time when we will be completing our work.

DAVID FROST: What is your real target with this Commission, do you hope to come up with a specific solution when you draw up your report?

GEORGE MITCHELL: It is not to be an exercise in allocating blame or responsibility, but rather more one of simple fact-finding to determine what happened, what policies were in place that did or didn't work and to make suggestions to prevent a recurrence in the future. It's a limited mandate both in terms of time and subject matter and we hope to be able to complete in a way that all concerned will find constructive and helpful.

DAVID FROST: You had lunch recently with Madeleine Albright, do you or did she see there are now any signs for hope with so many new killings and retaliations?

GEORGE MITCHELL: I believe that all concerned are anxious that the violence stop, that's absolutely essential to any further forward movement in the peace process. It's very difficult when the violence is running high, when there's so much grief and sorrow and bad feeling. So my hope is, and our Commission has urged that there be an immediate end of violence, a return to negotiations because I think they came fairly close at the Camp David Summit and I think with the renewed push and with good faith on all sides it's possible to reach an agreement.

DAVID FROST: And what about the departure of President Clinton, I mean he's given this process a great deal of time?

GEORGE MITCHELL: He's given it a great deal of time, effort, personal commitment. I don't know who the next President of the United States is going to be as we speak, but whoever he is I hope that he will be as committed to the process as is President Clinton and I believe that will be the case, this is an important issue for the United States and I expect that the next President will be as vitally interested and pursue the process as has President Clinton.

DAVID FROST: What place do you see for President Putin, do you think the Russians can have a role to play in the Middle East now?

GEORGE MITCHELL: I hope that they can, I'm not privy to the conversations between Chairman Arafat and President Putin, or of the Israeli Foreign Minister who also visited in Russia just recently so I'm not sure what transpired between them but our group itself is of course international in nature, we have, in addition to myself as chairman and one other American, a former Senator Warren Rudman, we had three Europeans, the former President of Turkey, the Xavier Solana who is the head of the EU Foreign Commission and the Foreign Minister of Norway, so it's an international group and I think the more that we can concentrate on getting our job done the better we'll be for the process to move forward soon.

DAVID FROST: As you're visiting the Middle East President Clinton will be making his last trip as President to Northern Ireland, how much influence, can he have any influence on the situation at this eleventh hour?

GEORGE MITCHELL: I hope that he does and I know very well that that's his intention. He has been very personally and deeply interested in the situation in Northern Ireland as you know, no other American President has ever gone to Northern Ireland while in office and this will be President Clinton's third visit and I know that he will want to do what he can to encourage the political leaders and the people to move the process forward, even as he recognises that the role of the United States there is a limited one, it's secondary, primary responsibility of course belongs to the government and the people there, but to the extent that he can be helpful I know that he very much wants to be and is looking forward to his visit.

DAVID FROST: Do you feel that the peace process in Northern Ireland has been slower than you expected?

GEORGE MITCHELL: On the day that I announced the Good Friday Agreement I said that it was an historic step, which indeed it was, I also said words to the effect that by itself the Agreement did not provide or guarantee peace and political stability, it made them possible but there would be difficult days and decisions ahead. I confess that I couldn't foresee the future precisely as it has played out and there have been many times when I and others have been discouraged about the setbacks that have occurred. But if you think back David, over a few years, the situation there was much better than it has been, I believe that the path toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict has been irreversibly set although I'm, I'm, admit that there will be conflicts, there will be setbacks but I, I credit these political leaders with moving this process forward through very difficult circumstances.

DAVID FROST: And as to the next President of America, we don't know if it'll be Bush or Gore obviously, it looks a bit more like Bush at the moment, but do you think after a struggle as tight as this one either party could be a strong President?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Obviously there will be difficult circumstances, the country is split right down the middle on the Presidency, the Senate is equally divided 50-50, the first time that's happened in my recollection, the House is extremely close as well, so there's going to have to be a real effort by all of the leadership to reach bipartisan consensus on some important issues. But I remind you David that as the greatest American Presidents by common consent have been those who governed in time of crisis, Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, obviously the current situation isn't directly analogous to those, but while this situation presents a tremendous challenge to the next President it also is a great opportunity.

DAVID FROST: You're a life-long Democrat of course, but you do you feel as a lot of people are saying that if the Supreme Court go against him that Al Gore should give up gracefully rather than carrying on?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well as of right now he certainly has a proper basis to continue, the matter is in the courts, he has acted in accordance with the law of Florida, I don't think the Supreme Court will be making a decision to step in although no one knows for sure, yet at an appropriate time one or the other of them will have to step aside but I think it's important to get a full, fair and accurate count of the votes.

DAVID FROST: Well maybe you should come in as the Unity candidate?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I'm occupied in the Middle East right now and that's tough enough for me at the moment.

DAVID FROST: Senator Mitchell thank you.

GEORGE MITCHELL: Thank you David, good to see you again.

DAVID FROST: Senator George Mitchell.

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