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Exec division { April 7 2002 }

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Newsweek: Bush Administration Deeply Divided Over Powell Mission to Mideast; U.S. Diplomat in Mideast Says White House 'Not Very Committed' to Getting Israelis, Palestinians Back into Serious Discussions


Story Filed: Sunday, April 07, 2002 11:20 AM EST

NEW YORK, Apr 7, 2002 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Despite the apparent victory of Secretary of State Colin Powell's State Department in prodding a reluctant president to commit himself to greater Mideast engagement, it's not clear how much support the mission has back at the White House, Newsweek reports. Sources tell Newsweek in the April 15 issue (on newsstands Monday, April 8), that the administration is deeply divided between hard-liners, like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who'd like to see Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon given a free hand, and senior officials at the State Department, who've argued the president's leadership is on the line unless he tries to resolve the conflict.

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Washington Bureau Chief Daniel Klaidman and Senior Editor Michael Hirsh report that President George W. Bush's visceral instincts about the conflict may pull him back into the hard-line camp and undercut Powell. Despite his shift, Bush remains leery of negotiating at all with Palestinian Chairman Yasir Arafat and has instead identified with Sharon's struggle. Indeed, an administration official says that Bush believes Arafat "wants to be remembered as a freedom fighter, not a peacemaker."

That kind of tough talk works to appease Bush's conservative base, many of whom are angry over his decision to restrain Sharon. Just as important, it pleases the politically influential U.S. Jewish community, whose support could deliver Florida to Bush in 2004 -- decisively this time. Indeed, because of the need to address many different constituencies, the president's speech went through 17 drafts, and much of the dickering was over just how tough to be on Arafat. Karl Rove, Bush's principal political advisor, helped craft the language he thought was necessary to reassure Israel supporters: namely, that "Arafat created this problem." Sources said that in order to achieve balance in the speech, Powell insisted on a qualifier: that the problem was "largely" of Arafat's making. One senior administration official says there was real tension between Bush and Powell over the issue. He says hawks pushed for a bold proposal -- abandon Arafat as a negotiating partner, while at the same time putting forward a U.S. outline of a final settlement and demanding that both sides respond to it. He says this was rejected. "They backed off. It was thought too hard. Now we are stuck with going there and temporizing."

The decision to send Powell to the region came only as protests in the Arab world began to threaten U.S. allies like Egypt and Jordan, Newsweek reports. "What really scared [the Bush administration] was that the anger was shifting from the obvious target, Israel, to the United States and to the Arab regimes and Arab rulers," says a longtime U.S. diplomat in the region. "The anger wasn't just from the usual complainers." It came from officials close to Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. When asked how deeply committed the administration is in getting serious peace talks started, the U.S. diplomat said "I fear the U.S. is not very committed. When you have other fish to fry, like Iraq, and other priorities, like the war on terror, it's a problem."

(Read Newsweek's news releases at Click "Pressroom.")

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