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World Report

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien Fails in Attempt to Soothe Tensions in Middle East

Aired April 16, 2000 - 2:05 p.m. ET

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

ASIEH NAMDAR, CNN ANCHOR: Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien was hoping to soothe tensions in the Middle East when he arrived for a visit. Instead, he has angered Palestinians by refusing to visit east Jerusalem. He's also antagonized Syrians by appearing to side with Israel on Syria's access to the Sea of Galilee. And his diplomatic blunders are raising eyebrows back home.

Canada's CBC has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEIL MACDONALD, CBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even speeding in a motorcade through the grim enclaves of Gaza, a foreign leader sees the meaning of occupation. Gaza has been effectively sealed up by Israel since the beginning of the peace process. Most Gazans unable to leave, languish in near hopelessness.

"The reality is very painful for us," says this man. "We are living in an internalized prison. We don't know which way to go, left or right. For us the situation is worse, not better."

Here, Yasser Arafat presides over a government without statehood. He plans to declare Palestine a country this fall whether Israel agrees or not. If he does he will badly need the support of countries like Canada.

YASSER ARAFAT, PRESIDENT, PALESTINE AUTHORITY (through translator): I just want to remind you that had the peace process proceeded on schedule, we would have had a state last year.

MACDONALD: But Chretien counseled against unilaterally declaring independence, at least for the time being.

JEAN CHRETIEN, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: We think that the solution is to keep it as part of the negotiation, because that will put pressure on both parties to come to a resolution.

MACDONALD: But in French, Chretien went further...

CHRETIEN: (SPEAKING IN FRENCH)

MACDONALD: ... saying the threat of a unilateral declaration can be used as a lever to obtained a better deal. Later, perhaps fearing the Quebecers might take that advice to heart, Chretien decided to clarify his remarks.

Unilateral declaration of independence, or UDI, he said, is permitted only in certain circumstances.

CHRETIEN: The UDI under international law apply when you are a colony or an occupied territory. Quebec is not an occupied territory, Quebec is a province of Canada, two different things.

MACDONALD (on camera): Which of course begs the original question: If in Chretien's opinion the occupied territories qualify, would Canada then support Yasser Arafat if he declares statehood in defiance of Israel? In the end, Chretien took no position. He said, these are local issues and he doesn't want to ruin things by making an off-the-cuff comment.

Neil MacDonald, CBC News, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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