Fri, May 30, 2003 - Page 6 News List

White House pushes forward on road to Middle East peace

AP , WASHINGTON

The White House is warning that the road to peace between Israel and the Palestinians still is a long and bumpy one, but that's not stopping US President George W. Bush from attempting to speed up the process.

Barring a blowup, Bush will meet in Egypt on Tuesday with President Hosni Mubarak, the leaders of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Then, on Wednesday, Bush is due to meet separately and together in Jordan with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and with Abbas.

It is a high-stakes gamble by Bush, who had been roundly criticized in Europe and the Arab world for not moving quickly into the Mideast morass and is now jumping in with both feet.

"The president believes there is a new opportunity for peace with the end of the war in Iraq," his national security assistant, Condoleezza Rice, said Wednesday.

The appointment of Abbas as Palestinian prime minister, Israel's acceptance of a roadmap or blueprint for peacemaking and statements by Sharon all were cited by Rice as reasons for Bush to get directly involved.

She apparently referred to Sharon saying this week that the Palestinians were living under occupation and that Israel did not want to remain in charge of Palestinian cities.

Rice cautioned: "This is going to be a long process, and it is going to have its ups and downs as it always has."

Elliott Abrams, who heads the Middle East desk at the National Security Council, and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns left on Wednesday for talks in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The wild card is Yasser Arafat, recognized by virtually the entire world -- and Abbas -- as the leader of the Palestinian people.

He has not been invited to either summit, but his attempt to inject himself into the process could undermine Bush's effort to inspire democracy and foster counterterrorism among the Palestinians and to convince Sharon to strike a deal with Abbas. Bush and Sharon reject Arafat's involvement, saying he has colluded with terrorists.

Rice said Abbas "will need to be devoted to creating security services that can fight terror."

Sharon has sidelined peace efforts in the past when terrorists struck Israelis,

And Secretary of State Colin Powell said Bush would look to the Arab leaders in their meeting at Sharm el-Sheik, an Egyptian Red Sea resort, to "increasingly isolate those who support terror."

The roadmap, prepared with the help of the EU, the UN and Russia, envisions the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.

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