Gore-Bush Presidential Debate

(October 10, 2000)

MODERATOR: Let's go through some of the specifics now. New question. Vice President Gore, the governor mentioned the Middle East. Here we're talking at this stage in the game about diplomatic power that we have. What do you think the United States should do right now to resolve that conflict over there?

GORE: The first priority has to be on ending the violence, dampening down the tensions that have arisen there. We need to call upon Syria to release the three Israeli soldiers who have been captured. We need to insist that Arafat send out instructions to halt some of the provocative acts of violence that have been going on. I think that we also have to keep a weather eye toward Saddam Hussein because he is taking advantage of this situation to once again make threats, and he needs to understand that he's not only dealing with Israel, he is dealing -- he's dealing with us if he is making the kind of threats that he's talking about there. The use of diplomacy in this situation has already, well, it goes hour-by-hour and day-by-day now. It's a very tense situation there. But in the last 24 hours there has been some subsiding of the violence there. It's too much to hope that this is going to continue, but I do hope that it will continue. Our country has been very active with regular conversations with the leaders there. And we just have to take it day-to-day right now. But one thing I would say where diplomacy is concerned, Israel should feel absolutely secure about one thing. Our bonds with Israel are larger than agreements or disagreements on some details of diplomatic initiatives. They are historic, they are strong, and they are enduring. And our ability to serve as an honest broker is something that we need to shepherd.

MODERATOR: Governor?

BUSH: Well, I think during the campaign, particularly now during this difficult period, we ought to be speaking with one voice, and I appreciate the way the administration has worked hard to calm the tensions. Like the vice president, I call on Chairman Arafat to have his people pull back to make the peace. I think credibility is going to be very important in the future in the Middle East. I want everybody to know should I be the president Israel's going to be our friend. I'm going to stand by Israel. Secondly, that I think it's important to reach out to moderate Arab nations, like Jordan and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It's important to be friends with people when you don't need each other so that when you do there's a strong bond of friendship. And that's going to be particularly important in dealing not only with situations such as now occurring in Israel, but with Saddam Hussein. The coalition against Saddam has fallen apart or it's unraveling, let's put it that way. The sanctions are being violated. We don't know whether he's developing weapons of mass destruction. He better not be or there's going to be a consequence should I be the president. But it's important to have credibility and credibility is formed by being strong with your friends and resoluting your determination. One of the reasons why I think it's important for this nation to develop an anti-ballistic missile system that we can share with our allies in the Middle East if need be to keep the peace is to be able to say to the Saddam Husseins of the world or the Iranians, don't dare threaten our friends. It's also important to keep strong ties in the Middle East, credible ties, because of the energy crisis we're now in. After all, a lot of the energy is produced from the Middle East, and so I appreciate what the administration is doing. I hope to get a sense of should I be fortunate to be the president how my administration will react to the Middle East.

MODERATOR: So you don't believe, Vice President Gore, that we should take sides and resolve this right now? A lot of people pushing hey, the United States should declare itself and not be so neutral in this particular situation.

GORE: Well, we stand with Israel, but we have maintained the ability to serve as an honest broker. And one of the reasons that's important is that Israel cannot have direct dialogue with some of the people on the other side of conflicts, especially during times of tension, unless that dialogue comes through us. And if we throw away that ability to serve as an honest broker, then we have thrown -- we will have thrown away a strategic asset that's important not only to us but also to Israel.

MODERATOR: You agree with that, Governor?

BUSH: I do. I do think this, though. When it comes to timetables it can't be the United States timetable as to how discussions take place. It's got to be a timetable that all parties can agree to, like the Palestinians and Israelis. Secondly, any lasting peace is going to have to be a peace that's good for both sides. And therefore, the term honest broker makes sense. This current administration's worked hard to keep the parties at the table. I will try to do the same thing. But it won't be on my timetable, it will be on the timetable that people are comfortable with in the Middle East.

Source: Public Papers of the President