Archive for Thursday, June 28, 2001

Sharon leaves U.S. without backing

June 28, 2001


— Inviting himself to the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was hoping for talk of unity at the expense of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Instead, Sharon wound up his Washington visit Wednesday after a cold shower of public disagreement with President Bush.

Sharon and Bush clashed in public over how much reduction in Mideast violence would be enough to trigger further political moves. And in a closed meeting they disagreed over the explosive issue of freezing construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"There must be a total cessation of violence" before any negotiations, Sharon said at every opportunity, even correcting a reporter who asked about "cessation."

"Total cessation," Sharon interjected.

Bush made it clear from the outset that his administration does not share the all-or-nothing Israeli view. He spoke of a need for an all-out effort by Arafat to stop the violence, but he also said he would concentrate on "what's realistic and what's possible."

The president sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East ahead of Sharon's departure Wednesday to nudge the peace effort forward.

"This is going to be a long and difficult process," Powell said in Egypt, his first stop before talks today in Israel with both sides.

Powell's mission in the Middle East is to shore up the shaky cease-fire negotiated two weeks ago by CIA Director George Tenet and to press the sides to adopt measures recommended by an international commission headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.

The Mitchell report calls for a cease-fire, a cooling-off period, confidence-building measures including a freeze on settlement construction in the disputed areas, and, finally, peace negotiations.

Sharon insists on a complete halt in Palestinian attacks for 10 days before the cooling-off period can start. In an interview, he said the calm would have to continue until peace talks resumed, which he estimated would take at least five months.

While this was Sharon's second visit to the White House in three months, Arafat has not been invited.

Hoping to show that the Bush administration is in his corner, Sharon asked for Tuesday's White House meeting after accepting an invitation to address a banquet of the American-Israel Friendship League in New York.

Israeli media are portraying the results as a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. The daily newspaper Haaretz headlined, "No more patience in American administration for Israeli tricks."

Sharon rejected the description, saying there were no sharp disagreements.

However, he acknowledged differences, saying he had come to Washington to explain Israel's policies, not sign on to American views.

Sharon admitted that there has not been a total cessation of violence in decades, but insisted that "the situation is different now. The difference is that we are going toward an agreement."

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