Bush offers support to Sharon in crisis

Friday, June 21, 2002

WASHINGTON -- President Bush telephoned a message of support Thursday to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and demanded action by Yasser Arafat to curb terror.

In the conversation with Sharon, "the president reiterated his determination to push for peace and to find a way to provide more security for Israel and hope for the Palestinian people," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

As Bush and Sharon spoke, Israel pushed ahead with its drive into the West Bank and with a roundup of terror suspects. The House's top Democrat, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, questioned whether it made sense to propose a Palestinian state "while barbaric suicide attacks on Israel continue now on a daily basis."

"When the parties are not even talking to one another and violence is occurring every day, it is hard to imagine moving expeditiously toward a peaceful two-state solution," Gephardt said.

There was no indication Bush was trying to temper Israel's response to two deadly bombings in Jerusalem that have shaken and saddened the country.

"What the president said vis-a-vis action was that he was looking for action from the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority," Fleischer said.

"Most of the conversation was about condolence and sympathy for what Israel is going through," the White House spokesman said.

Arafat, the Palestinian leader, issued a call Thursday for an end to attacks on Israel, but the statement was judged insufficient by the White House. "The president is still waiting for him to act," Fleischer said.

At the State Department, meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Foreign Ministers Marwan Muasher of Jordan, Ahmed Maher of Egypt and Prince Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia to urge them to improve prospects for Bush's pending statement on Palestinian statehood by doing what they could to deter terror attacks on Israel.

Powell's message was that "everybody does have a responsibility and we want to work together with these others to create a climate where the violence decreases and where people can actually seriously listen and look forward to moving down a path of peace," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Bush again deferred delivering a long-anticipated speech proposing a step-by-step establishment of a Palestinian state contingent on democratic reforms within the Palestinian Authority. Aides were making tentative plans for a Monday speech, cautioning that events in Israel could upset that timetable.

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