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Arafat calls israel terrorists nazi racists { May 2 2002 }

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Bush Spokesman Chides Arafat

By Barry Schweid
AP Diplomatic Writer
Thursday, May 2, 2002; 10:58 AM

WASHINGTON The White House chided Yasser Arafat Thursday for condemning Israel as "terrorists, Nazis and racists" and said it would be better for all sides to focus on peace issues.

The mild reprimand was delivered by spokesman Ari Fleischer in President Bush's behalf. Emerging from Israeli house arrest, and hearing of a skirmish at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Arafat angrily accused Israel of willfully damaging the shrine.

"The president thinks the important step for all... parties is for them to now ask themselves what can they do to bring peace to the region, not what can they do to speak ill of others," Fleischer said when a reporter asked about Arafat's salvo.

The Bush administration had expected an agreement to end Israel's siege, but a monthlong standoff at the church, where terror suspects are believed to be holed up, may set that back.

Israeli troops fired at Palestinians walking from the besieged compound into Manger Square, killing one and wounding at least two who staggered back into the shrine, the army said. Palestinians returned fire.

"It's hard to assess all the facts of things that developed very rapidly on the ground," Fleischer said cautiously. "As far as the president's concerned, the violence in Bethlehem is another reason why it's so important to continue the efforts that have been made to bring peace to the region."

With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and King Abdullah II of Jordan due at the White House next week, the Bush administration is stepping up its drive for a Middle East peace accord.

On Thursday, U.S. diplomacy probably will get a major boost with endorsements from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and leaders of the European Union.

Sharon, who will see President Bush on Tuesday, is bound to be pressed to follow up his forces' pullout of Ramallah that released Arafat from five months' confinement in the West Bank city by moving forward on a Saudi peace proposal.

Jordan's Abdullah, due to meet Monday with Secretary of State Colin Powell and with Bush on Wednesday, is pushing a similar plan. In Amman on Wednesday, Abdullah said: "We must work for putting an end to the (Israeli occupation) and establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital." Like the Saudis, the king wants Israel to give up the West Bank, Gaza and part of Jerusalem, territory it captured in the Six-Day War of 1967, in exchange for promises of peace and recognition.

Sharon has a far more limited approach. While he has agreed with Bush on statehood for the Palestinians, he is conditioning the offer on a long, interim period of security and an end to terror.

Bush has embraced the Saudi "vision" but not all the details, several of which could prove to be deal-breakers.

Powell was on the telephone Wednesday with Arafat, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia.

"We will do what's necessary to help facilitate that process," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Using the breakthrough on freeing Arafat from Israeli house arrest as an example, Boucher said the administration was ready to present suggestions or even solutions to promote a peace accord.

Central to this accelerated campaign is an informal agreement with Saudi Arabia jointly to step up pressure for a negotiated regional peace, senior U.S. and Saudi officials said Wednesday.

The agreement, honed during Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's talks with Bush last week in Texas, accelerates emergence of the once quiet oil monarchy into an assertive and highly public Arab diplomatic force.

The venture began with Saudi criticism that the United States was exerting too little pressure against Israel. The administration's response was that the Saudis had to do more with Arafat.

"Our cooperation with the Saudi government has been very positive and fruitful over the last few days, since the visit to Crawford," Texas, Boucher said. "And we've been in close touch as well with King Abdullah of Jordan, with President (Hosni) Mubarak of Egypt and with others in the region."

The United States, which traditionally has sought to keep even allies like France and other would-be European mediators at a distance, is welcoming Saudi intervention.

The kingdom has responded. "This is one of the rare moments in history where there is virtually universal consensus on the outlines of a deal and the proper approach," a senior Saudi official said. "We must seize the moment."

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2002 The Associated Press

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