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The U. S. has opened a dialogue with Arab and Israeli leaders
Feb 8th, 2001
The Bush administration, while moving cautiously on a peacemaking role, has opened a dialogue with Arab and Israeli leaders. The immediate aim is to head off any outbreak of violence over Ariel Sharon's election as Israel's prime minister.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a burst of telephone diplomacy, talked Tuesday to Sharon, as President Bush did, and on Wednesday to King Abdullah II of Jordan, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Amr Moussa of Egypt and Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa of Syria.

``The message is basically ... that we're at a delicate time, that the prime minister-elect will need to form a government, and that during this period we should avoid provocations, we should avoid counter provocations, everyone should be exercising restraint and moderation,'' said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Also, the spokesman said, that ``we need to work together and talk to our friends and allies in the region and talk to the new government once it's formed about how we can proceed toward the search for peace.''

The call to Damascus was probably the most significant. Syria supports Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon who have carried out sporadic attacks against Israelis.

Further attacks could provoke a deadly response by Sharon, who is committed to bolstering Israel's security and has not shied away from using force in the past. The former general in 1982 led an invasion into Lebanon.

Sharon will send three top aides to Washington next week for talks with officials from the State Department, the Pentagon and probably the White House. They are Zalman Shoval, twice U.S. ambassador to Washington; Moshe Arens, a former Israeli foreign minister, defense minister and ambassador to Washington; and Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the United Nations.

Bush and his advisers intend to take Arab-Israeli diplomacy in a new direction, linking the intractable dispute over the Palestinians' future to other U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf.

Even familiar terminology is being cast aside. In a move approved by Powell, the phrase ``peace process'' is being jettisoned in favor of specific references.

``There is no official term to describe our efforts to achieve Middle East peace,'' a State Department internal memorandum says.

The new direction shifts away from detailed and constant U.S. mediation, often involving the president, and away also from what Powell has suggested was undue concentration on one of a multitude of U.S. foreign policy problems.

``I am of a view you can't just concentrate on one thing. There are just many things going on at the same time,'' Powell said last week.

Asked about his priorities, Powell said: ``I think, of course, we have to look at the Gulf and especially Iraq. Those things come to mind.''

Only two presidents immersed themselves in the devilish details of peacemaking: Jimmy Carter, in forging the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, and Bill Clinton, in mediating the 1998 Wye Accords that called for Israeli withdrawals on the West Bank, and last year's futile drive for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Other presidents relied on their secretaries of state, special mediators, the Near East bureau of the State Department and American ambassadors.

Three recent presidents, George Bush, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, never visited Israel. Bush, however, launched through his Secretary of State James P. Baker III the semiautonomous ``peace team'' headed by Dennis Ross that gave high-profile attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Ross has ended his 12-year run, and Boucher said Wednesday there was no decision on whether to replace him.

Clinton made peace in the Middle East his highest foreign policy priority. If Ross' post is not filled, it could indicate a settlement between Israel and the Arabs will get less attention.

Still, Bush on Wednesday pledged to work with Sharon to promote peace in the Middle East. ``We're going to play the hand we've been dealt,'' he said, ``and we're going to play it well.''

The United States will ``give the Sharon government a chance to do what he said he was going to do,'' Bush said.

The Bush administration intends to make the pitch that everyone in the region would benefit from a settlement, that peace would contribute to stability, something prized by Saudi Arabia and other oil producers as essential to their economic well-being.

The administration hopes the other leaders will support sanctions on Iraq to contain President Saddam Hussein's military programs, and coach the Palestinians to compromise with Israel.

However, Arab leaders want the U.N. sanctions nullified, and their view of whether Yasser Arafat ought to compromise could differ from Washington's.
Source: The New York Times Company

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08 February 2001 05:11:57 PM

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