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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: SENATOR GEORGE MITCHELL CHAIRMAN OF THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE COMMITTEE , MAY 27TH, 2001

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

DAVID FROST: On to troubles now of somewhat different kind, more serious, as violence continues to flare in the Middle East another car bomb in Jerusalem today, we're joined now by the man charged with trying to help find a solution to those problems, the former Senator George Mitchell who was asked by President Clinton to Chair a special International Committee which reported last week. A little earlier I spoke to Senator Mitchell from New York. Well George no one can accuse you of taking on easy assignments from Northern Ireland now to the Middle East, which have you found to be the most intractable?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well while I was in Northern Ireland I thought that was intractable, the negotiations as you'll recall lasted for nearly two years and for almost all of that time there was very little progress but since I've been in the Middle East I've found that to be at least as difficult, perhaps even more so at the current time with the high level of violence that's occurring.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the things that the two sides could do to help the situation, there's the idea that the Israelis should withdraw metal-cured rubber rounds against unarmed demonstrators, so that's one of the things that should be done?

GEORGE MITCHELL: We made a number of recommendations, what we said first was that there should be an immediate and unconditional cessation of violence and an immediate resumption of security cooperation by the two sides which is one of the few things on which they agree, that it was effective when they did have security cooperation during the so-called Oslo period during the mid-1990s. And then we suggest more than a dozen specific steps that could be taken by both sides, some jointly, some separately, to rebuild the confidence that's been so badly shattered, not just among the political leaders, but the public as well, the public on both sides now tends to disbelieve anything from the other side and then finally a resumption of meaningful negotiations. Now there's a sequence to it but it all has to happen, in effect if I can summarise it, you have to have an end to violence before you can begin negotiations but you have to have negotiations in a political context in order to maintain a cessation of violence.

DAVID FROST: Just on that, whereas the Israelis are obviously in control of their own military presumably a splinter group like Hamas, who say they've got ten suicide bombers waiting and so on, who are not in fact part of the Palestinian authority, they're rebels, they're terrorists or whatever, I mean if Hamas do something is it fair to blame the Palestinian authority for it?

GEORGE MITCHELL: We distinguish in our report between 100 per cent control and 100 per cent effort, it's quite, it's quite clear that there has been neither and what they need is the 100 per cent effort but even the Israeli officials recognise that there is not 100 per cent control within the Palestinian community and that there are dissident groups, in that respect it's not unlike Northern Ireland where the main body of paramilitary organisations have established a ceasefire but there remain dissident groups on both sides who continue to engage in violence in some ways in an effort to disrupt the peace process, so, so that's correct but, but there has to be the 100 per cent effort, that's what's been lacking.

DAVID FROST: Are you an optimist today?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Optimism is very difficult in the extremely dangerous circumstances that now exist in the Middle East but I do believe that there's no such thing as a conflict that can't be ended, conflicts are created and sustained by human beings and can be ended by human beings but I do think that we have to try to bring this to a conclusion and I think it will come to a conclusion, I believe that there will be an end to this violence because as the leaders in both sides said to us life has become unbearable for the members of their society and I don't think it continue, it can continue indefinitely.

DAVID FROST: Do you think both sides realise that all out war would be utterly negative?

GEORGE MITCHELL: I believe they do and I believe they very desperately do not want to engage in an all-out war. The problem is the total mistrust that exists, the disbelief of almost anything that the other side says and the unwillingness and right now political inability to take unilateral gestures, there has to be an understanding that there's, anything's going to happen the other side will reciprocate. What we said David in our report was we recommended a series of confidence building measures and we said that the timing and sequence of those measures are crucial, that can be decided only by the parties and they must begin that process of decision immediately. I liken that to my experience in Northern Ireland when Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Ahearn asked me to go back to Northern Ireland in the Fall of 1999, a year and a half after the Good Friday Agreement, when it appeared on the verge of collapse. I spent three and a half months there, it took only a few days to figure out the steps that needed to be taken, most of the time was taken up in devising a sequence in which each side could understand that if they took a step the other would take a step, that is in creating some sense of confidence that gestures would be reciprocated and would not be unilateral and expose them to ridicule and difficulty in their own communities. I think that's the same situation in a general way in the Middle East now.

DAVID FROST: George thank you so much for joining us.

GEORGE MITCHELL: Thank you very much David, it's very nice to talk to you David, thank you.

DAVID FROST: Our thanks to George there, former Senator although of course in America it's always still Senator George Mitchell. END

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