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US insists israel work arafat { May 6 2002 }

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U.S. Insists That Israel Must Work With Arafat
Bush to Make Case During Sharon's Visit

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 6, 2002; Page A12

On the eve of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the United States, Bush administration officials yesterday made clear that Israel would have to reckon with Yasser Arafat despite Israeli arguments that he is tied to terrorists.

Sharon is meeting with President Bush and top administration officials in Washington this week, intent on documenting Arafat's links to militant organizations. But Bush's top diplomatic and security officials, in a series of Sunday television appearances, continued to make the case that Arafat, despite his shortcomings, must be regarded as the Palestinian leader.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the United States has urged Israel not to place "unnecessary restraint" on Arafat, and she said Israel should allow him to travel to and from Cairo for a meeting with Arab leaders. Though he may be an inadequate leader, "clearly, Yasser Arafat is the person . . . whom the Palestinian people have chosen to lead them," Rice said on CNN's "Late Edition."

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said it is in the interests of the United States and Israel to "work with all Palestinian leaders and to recognize who the Palestinian people took to as their leader." Speaking on ABC's "This Week," Powell said: "However much we all may disagree with what Mr. Arafat has done over time and how disappointed we've been with him over time, he was released . . . last Sunday so that he can begin exercising authority once again over the Palestinian Authority and representing the Palestinian people."

Sharon, who will meet with Bush on Tuesday and other administration officials before that, intends to present a 100-page report linking Arafat to the financing of terrorists. Israel has long contended that Arafat has a role in Palestinian attacks on Israel. But although critical of Arafat's leadership, Powell argued that "Palestinians look to Chairman Arafat. And the events of the last several weeks just show that his popularity has increased at the same time Prime Minister Sharon's popularity increased."

In another area of potential differences with the Israeli leader, the officials reaffirmed Bush's view that a two-state solution is the best option for Middle East peace. Sharon's Likud Party is expected on May 12 to pass a measure rejecting Palestinian statehood. But Rice said yesterday that "the president made clear in his April 4 speech that Israel also has responsibilities, that eventually a two-state solution is going to make Israel more secure."

The officials also made clear they expect Israel to address the issue of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory. The settlements have continued to multiply under Sharon's leadership despite American objections. Powell, who also spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press," said, "Something has to be done about the problem of settlements," adding: "I'm sure this will be part of our discussion with Prime Minister Sharon." Powell said it is still American policy, as Bush said April 4, that the settlements must stop. Rice expressed less urgency about the need for resolving the settlement conflict.

In his trip to Washington, Sharon plans to outline his peace proposals, including a buffer between Israel and the West Bank that would use fences, ditches and gates. Powell, however, expressed little enthusiasm for such a plan. "I don't know that you're going to solve the problem with a fence, unless you solve the underlying problems of the Palestinians feeling that they are disenfranchised," he said.

The administration is eager to calm tensions in the Middle East so it can proceed with plans to target Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Powell said yesterday that even a move by Iraq to admit weapons inspectors would not change that plan. "U.S. policy is that regardless of what the inspectors do, the people of Iraq and the people of the region would be better off with a different regime in Baghdad," he said.

Yet both American officials continued the administration's effort to reduce expectations for the broad Middle East peace conference announced last week. The talks may involve not just the United States, Israel and Arab countries, but also the European Union, United Nations, Russia and Japan. U.S. officials are caught between Sharon's contention that he is not prepared to sign a permanent deal and the Arabs' position that there must be a final agreement resolving all outstanding differences.

"We don't expect breakthroughs at this," Rice said, calling the meeting, which does not have a location or date, "one in a series of discussions that have already begun and that will continue. We don't envision a big Madrid peace conference." Rice, who also spoke on "Fox News Sunday," said: "This is a long game."

Powell called the ministerial meeting "just a continuation" of the effort that began with Bush's Rose Garden speech a month ago.

Bush, who is scheduled to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah on Wednesday, spent yesterday jogging at Fort McNair, attending services at St. John's Church near the White House and viewing a T-ball game on the South Lawn that had been postponed because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Staff writer Alan Sipress contributed to this report.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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