Sun, Mar 28, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Israeli prime minister to meet Bush in Washington


An agreement has been reached for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to meet in Washington with US President George W. Bush next month, the White House announced Friday.

Bush and Sharon will discuss "the war on terror and the search for Israeli-Palestinian peace" when they meet April 14 at the White House, said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan.

The long-expected meeting comes two days after Bush is to welcome Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at his Texas ranch. Though McClellan did not provide a date, Bush also will meet with Jordan's King Abdullah next month as part of a series of consultations with key Middle East leaders.

Next week, a trio of US emissaries is expected to make its third trip to the region to talk with Israeli and Palestinian officials on Israel's plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip. Sharon has proposed dismantling nearly all Israeli settlements in Gaza and some in the West Bank.

After some initial hesitation, the administration has warmed to the idea of Israel relinquishing control of Gaza and moving the 7,500 Israeli Jews who live in the predominantly Palestinian area.

But questions remain, including administration concerns about whether such a unilateral move by Israel is consistent with the US-backed "road map" peace plan and whether it enhances -- or disrupts -- the prospects for a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. As well, the land Israel may be ready to relinquish in Gaza and on the West Bank is unlikely to meet Arab expectations, which include part of Jerusalem as well as all the territory they lost in war with Israel in 1967.

A team of Bush administration officials, made up of Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, National Security Council Deputy Director Stephen Hadley and the council's Mideast specialist, Elliot Abrams, have traveled to the region twice in recent months.

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