Wed, Jul 23, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Abbas and Sharon to seek Bush's favor

UPCOMING SUMMIT Both Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will ask the US to help them reach their separate goals


President George W. Bush faces calls from Palestinian and Israeli leaders to come down on their side as Mideast peacemaking settles into an indecisive phase.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, due to travel to Washington on Friday, wants Jewish settlers to start clearing out of the West Bank to make way for a Palestinian state.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who sees Bush next Tuesday, is seeking US help in pressuring Abbas to begin dismantling Palestinian terror groups.

So far, the two sides have taken some steps down the road to peacemaking, but the big moves endorsed in a US-backed blueprint have been deferred. The highest immediate priority was given to restoring order.

But Abbas and Sharon are looking for more as they prepare to see the president, his top advisers and senior congressional leaders.

Abbas will get the red-carpet treatment Bush has denied Yasser Arafat, who remains recognized by the Palestinians and most other governments as the leader of the Palestinians.

Bush concluded early in his presidency that Arafat was a failed leader and denied him an invitation to the White House. Abbas, on the other hand, has won praise as a reformer.

But his popularity among the Palestinians could depend on whether he enlists Bush's support in pressuring Sharon, who has moved to dismantle some unauthorized outposts but says the settlements are a different matter entirely.

Abbas, arriving late today, will get the full treatment from the White House staff and Congress. He will see Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, tomorrow. On Friday, after lunch with Bush, Abbas has separate meetings scheduled with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Senior members of Congress will meet with the Palestinian prime minister tomorrow morning.

More than 70 House members signed and sent to the White House on Monday a letter approving Bush's decision to deliver US$20 million in US assistance directly to the Palestinian Authority.

"To win public support for dismantling the terrorist infrastructure Abu Mazen must be able to show the Palestinian people that his government can deliver essential social services that are now provided only by Hamas and other radical groups," Representative Howard Berman said.

With the approval of Congress, US aid for more than a year has been distributed among the Palestinians without going to the Palestinian Authority. Allegations of corruption prompted the move.

But Bush this month ordered a shift in a vote of confidence in Abbas and the Palestinian finance minister, Salam Fayad.

Sharon, who also enjoys strong support among Bush administration officials, sent Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom ahead to Washington for meetings with congressional leaders yesterday and with Cheney, Rice and Powell on today.

In Brussels, Shalom told EU officials Monday he would welcome greater European involvement in Mideast peacemaking.

Traditionally, mindful of years of votes against Israel in the UN, Israel has tried to keep European governments out of the process.

But the Bush administration invited the EU to co-sponsor the so-called roadmap to peace, along with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Russian government.

"I don't accept the formula that has existed for many years, that Israel can live without Europe and Europe can live without Israel," Shalom said.

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