Video: NBC exclusive: Sharon interview

By David Gregory Chief White House correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/11/2005 8:12:21 PM ET 2005-04-12T00:12:21

Monday the Western White House welcomed a guest from the Middle East: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Before leaving Israel for the summit with President Bush, Sharon granted NBC News White House Correspondent David Gregory an exclusive interview, where he discussed the Gaza pullout and the reaction to it in Israel.

Israelis are bracing for a violent summer, but it's not the Palestinians they are worried about — it’s the Jewish settlers.

David Gregory: Do you expect violence as you pull out of Gaza?

Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon: I expect that before and during.

At Sharon's direction, Israel will completely withdraw from the Gaza Strip this summer — a move that will uproot 8,000 Israeli settlers there.

Sharon: One should not underestimate the tension here, the atmosphere here. It looks like on the eve of a civil war.

Sharon himself has received death threats.

Gregory: Do you worry about your life?

Sharon: All my life I was defending [the] life of Jews. Now, for [the] first time, security steps are taken to protect me from Jews.

Bush administration officials consider the Gaza withdrawal critical to the peace process. But they are also worried Sharon is undermining peace prospects by expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

A growing point of friction between the U.S. and Israel can be found just a short drive from Jerusalem, in the sprawling settlement known as Ma'aleh Adumim. The Sharon government has announced plans to build more houses there — what's being seen as a direct violation of the Bush administration's call to freeze all settlement activity.

Gregory: Do you intend to freeze settlement activity?

Sharon: We don't build any new Jewish communities. We don't build there.

Gregory: But you are adding to some existing communities.

Sharon: People live there. There are no new communities that are built or added. Arabs live everywhere, Jews live everywhere.

Another area of disagreement is Iran. Sharon says diplomacy with the mullahs will not prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb.

Gregory: Are they just buying the Iranians time?

Sharon: Yes. They are buying [the] Iranians time.

Gregory: Could you under any circumstances tolerate a nuclear Iran?

Sharon: I don't think it's only our problem. It's a problem of the free world. Of course, we think seriously about all those steps that could save Israel if the Iranians will be able to do it or do it.

As for Monday's meeting, President Bush raised the concern that Israel's expansion of settlements would undermine his goal of a Palestinian state that is contiguous, not merely scattered territories.

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