Sharon, Bush to discuss overhaul of Palestinian Authority

Monday, May 6, 2002

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush said Monday he shared Israel's disappointment with Yasser Arafat as he prepared for talks at the White House with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"He has disappointed me," Bush said of the Palestinian leader as he toured a school in Southfield, Mich. "He must lead. He must show the world that he believes in peace."

The president declined to preview his White House meeting with the prime minister. "I am going to have a private conversation with Ariel Sharon and I'd rather that my conversation, what I'm going to tell him and discuss with him ... he'll be the first to know about it," Bush said.

But Bush said Israel's resistance to meeting with Arafat is an expression of disappointment in his ability to lead.

"After all, right before we had a security agreement done, a shipload of ammunition showed up that can probably be aimed at the Israeli citizens. So there is a high level of disappointment," Bush said of the abortive attempt to smuggle 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestinians.

Still, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush's view is that Sharon must negotiate with Arafat because he is the head of the Palestinian Authority.

"The president's focus is going to be on peace," Fleischer said Monday. "The ingredients are there for progress to be made. It just requires time and patience."

Traveling with Sharon from Israel on Sunday, Israeli Education Minister Limor Livnat told reporters Israel was trying to convince the United States and the international community that there could be no viable peace with the Palestinians until they replace Arafat.

"With a corrupt regime like this, whose word cannot be trusted, we cannot make agreements," she said. "We need to be able to keep talking, but with another Palestinian leadership."

Sharon planned to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell at his hotel and then with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon on Monday, then hold separate talks Tuesday with Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

The prime ministers was reported to be depositing documents with the Bush administration purporting to link Arafat directly to terror attacks on Israel. Powell, before his meeting with Sharon, said he had not seen such documents. The Palestinians dismiss such papers as forgeries.

Israeli and U.S. officials say the two sides will seek to define the framework for a proposed international peace conference. A Sharon adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the prime minister would also put forward suggestions on ways to revamp the Palestinian security, legal and administrative systems.

One dispute between Israel and the Palestinians looked as if it might be on its way to being resolved Sunday night, as Palestinian officials reported an agreement with the Israelis to end the monthlong standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

However, an Israeli official said there had been progress but no agreement.

Powell, meanwhile, said: "We're close; one or two points need to be resolved."

On a busy day, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, called on Powell, as well. Afterward he said his government could not endorse the U.S. proposal for a Mideast peace conference.

"It's not a bad idea," Saud said. But he said his government needs to know more about what would transpire at the meeting.

Powell said the meeting would focus on three things: an end to violence, an economic revitalization of Palestinian areas and a political map for the future. "It is crucial that they each have hope: both economic hope and political hope," Powell said of the warring factions in the Middle East.

Rice said it's not Washington's role to dictate to Palestinians who should lead them.

"The White House position is that we're not going to try to choose the leadership for the Palestinian people," she said Sunday.

Rice said the Bush administration "will talk to the Israelis about what makes sense for Israeli security and for the establishment of a Palestinian state down the road."

Sharon is under pressure from hawks in his government, such as Livnat, who reject Palestinian statehood.

"I am opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state," she said. "It will be nothing but a hotbed of terrorism. That has always been my position and it's not going to change during this flight."

Bush has endorsed a Palestinian state alongside Israel, something Powell echoed on Sunday.

"Do you go to an interim state, a provisional state?" Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press," speaking of possible prospects for peace. "Or do you just have phases that go to the final state solution that we're looking for?"

But he agreed with the Israelis on the need for Palestinian reforms.

Also in Washington now is King Abdullah II of Jordan who was slated to see Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld on Monday.

On Wednesday, the king will visit Bush at the White House. Sharon, meanwhile, will meet with Jewish leaders in New York before heading home.

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