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Mitchell Optimistic About Mideast Peace - 2001-09-02

Middle East negotiator and former Senator George Mitchell says he remains optimistic about the chances for peace in the region, despite the violence of recent months. Mr. Mitchell chaired a high-level commission that drafted guidelines for reviving the peace process.

The Mitchell Commission report has been embraced by President Bush and is often described by administration officials as a formula for peace. It calls for a cease-fire and a cooling-off period leading up to resumed negotiations.

The report came out in late April. Since then, the level of violence between Israelis and Palestinians has increased. But Senator Mitchell says he still believes the panel's recommendations can be put into place.

"People should not become so despairing and discouraged that they say ' Well, if it did not happen in a few days of the report being issued or a few months it isn't going to happen.' I think you have to keep at it," Senator Mitchell said.

During an appearance on the ABC television news program This Week, Mr. Mitchell drew a parallel to Northern Ireland, where he played a direct role in efforts to get a peace agreement.

"The single most important factor in achieving the result [the Northern Ireland agreement], even though it is tentative and uncertain there, was weariness with war," he said. "The people were sick of conflict and they wanted something different. I think that is going to happen in the Middle East."

Two senators also spoke out about the Middle East peace process on CNN's Weekend Edition. Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell said he would try to put pressure on Palestinian leaders by putting conditions on U.S. aid.

"They have simply not at all been constructive during the past six or eight-months. I think strapping bombs on the backs of [Palestinian] youngsters and sending them into [Israeli] pizza parlors is a clear message to the United States that we need to toughen up our approach with regard to the PLO," Senator McConnell said.

Democrat Byron Dorgan of North Dakota agreed on the need for some sort of action to stop the bloodshed.

"My heart breaks for the innocent victims who have suffered though this and we need to find a way to try to help eliminate and reduce this violence," he said.

The Senate will take up the foreign aid budget for the next fiscal year sometime in the next few weeks.