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