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Archive for Thursday, April 4, 2002

Bush demands Israel pull back; Powell heading to Middle East

April 4, 2002

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— In a new push for peace, President Bush on Thursday demanded that Israel pull back its troops from Palestinian cities it occupied in recent days and called on Arab nations to do more to crack down on terrorists. He ordered Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region to carry the message.

"The storms of violence cannot go on," Bush said. "Enough is enough."

In a Rose Garden speech with Powell at his side, Bush chastised Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "The situation in which he finds himself today is largely of his own making" and warned Syria and Iran against fomenting more violence.

"To those who would try to use the current crisis as an opportunity to widen the conflict: Stay out," Bush said. He did not mention Iraq, though senior advisers said Bush believes Saddam Hussein is supporting suicide bombers attacking Israel.

The president has faced mounting criticism with each new suicide bombing against Israelis and every military response from Israel. He has been accused of doing too much and, by other critics, too little.

Senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush decided Wednesday that last week's suicide bombings coupled with Israel's strong military response compelled him to restate his views on the region and add a couple of new wrinkles.

By stepping up pressure on Arab countries to help curb terrorism, Bush was tacitly acknowledging that Arafat had failed to stop terrorism and is unlikely to do so alone, senior officials said. With his call to Israel for an end to incursions, the president was giving Powell an achievable goal for his mission one that the president hopes will be a small step toward a cease-fire and, perhaps ultimately, peace talks.

Aides said Bush believes the Israeli assaults into Palestinian areas could eventually undermine Israel's security by inciting more violence and even spread the conflict beyond the Israeli-Palestinian borders.

He also urged Israel to stop building settlements in Palestinian areas and "show a respect for and concern about the dignity of the Palestinian people." He said closed border crossings should be opened to allow for a freer flow of Palestinians.

U.S. officials said Bush purposely did not mention a timetable for Israel's withdrawal or the end to settlements, a step Israel has already conditionally agreed to carry out as part of the derailed peace process.

"I speak as a committed friend of Israel, out of concern for its long-term security," Bush said.

To the Palestinians, Bush restated his warning that nations that help terrorists will be treated the same as terrorists. He urged Arafat and his Arab neighbors to "join us in delivering a clear and unequivocal message to terrorists: Blowing yourself up does not help the Palestinian cause. To the contrary, suicide bombing missions could well blow up the best and only hope for a Palestinian state."

He urged Arab countries to help Arafat disrupt terrorist financing and stop the incitement of violence "by glorifying terror in state-owned media."

"As Israel steps back, Palestinian leaders and Israel's Arab neighbors have a responsibility to step forward and show the world that they are truly on the side of peace," Bush said.

As Bush spoke, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in an address to his nation that Israel's military campaign will create hatred among 300 million Arabs. He urged the Bush administration to "exert its maximum effort" to ensure an Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories.

Aides said he was frustrated and disappointed with Arafat's inability to stem terrorism, and is hoping the Arab leaders will fill the void.

Bush said of Arafat: "He has missed his opportunities and thereby betrayed the hopes of his people."

Bush hopes, through Powell, to persuade Israel to stop its military incursions while pushing the parties toward a cease-fire and beginning talks on political issues, such as the Israeli settlements, a senior adviser said.

Bush has given Powell wide latitude on the trip, including allowing him to mingle talks about a truce and cease-fire along with discussions about long-range political sticking points, senior officials said.

Before his announcement, Bush spoke by telephone with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, whose country holds the European Union presidency and who had been trying to lead an EU peace mission to the region. Aznar had scrapped the mission after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would not allow him to see Arafat.

Just one day earlier, Romano Prodi, head of the EU's executive Commission, urged Washington to step aside as primary peacemaker and make room for a broad alliance of nations including the EU, the Russians and moderate Arab nations to mediate a comprehensive peace deal for the region.

Powell's predecessor, Madeleine Albright, said Thursday that the Bush administration is not using its influence in the Middle East. "I do think Secretary Powell needs to go to the region," she said on NBC's "Today." "The bottom line is that the United States is the only power that will be listened to by both sides."

Albright said both Sharon and Arafat are making mistakes.

"I really do think we are watching two old, stubborn men who have had a lifetime hatred of each other being played out on a scene where hundreds of people are endangered and people are dying," she said. "They need to forget their personal animosity and think about the national interests of their people."

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