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US Officials Urge Arafat to Back Speech with Concrete Action - 2001-12-16


The United States says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has made a constructive speech calling for an end to armed attacks against Israelis, and Washington wants him to follow those words with action. Top U.S. officials are blaming attacks by militant Palestinians for the breakdown in the Mideast peace process.

Arafat, in a televised speech Sunday, called for an end to suicide bombings against Israel and all terrorist activities by Palestinian militants. The White House issued a statement, saying Mr. Arafat's words were constructive but must be backed up with concrete action.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says Washington has been asking the Palestinian leader for a long time to stop talking about ending the violence and to do something about it. In an interview on the CNN program Late Edition recorded before Mr. Arafat's speech, Ms. Rice said peace talks can not be held in an atmosphere of terror and violence. "What Chairman Arafat needs to do is to break up the terrorist organizations that are operating in his midst," she said. "We are asking no more of him than we are asking of every responsible leader in the world."

Ms. Rice says Mr. Arafat, as leader of the Palestinian people, must direct them not to follow the "siren song of violence" which is keeping the region from achieving peace. Ms. Rice also says Washington has an important role to play and will not disengage from its goal of seeking Middle East peace. Therefore, she says, U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, who has been recalled to Washington, will return to the region after consultations at the White House and the State Department.

Secretary of State Colin Powell blames the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad for obstructing General Zinni's efforts over the last three weeks to get the Israelis and Palestinians to maintain a ceasefire. On the NBC program Meet the Press", Secretary Powell said Yasser Arafat must go after those organizations which are also undermining his authority. "We send General Zinni over to try to get that dialogue going, and all of that was blown up by these terrorist organizations on the Palestinian side," he said. "They are attacking Mr. Arafat just as surely as they are attacking the people of Israel and the state of Israel, and Mr. Arafat has to act against them."

Secretary Powell does not blame General Zinni for the breakdown in the peace process. "The failure is not General Zinni's, it's not the United States government's. The failure at this point, on this Sunday morning, is with the parties in the region, especially, I have to say, on the part of the Palestinians for not getting the violence under control," he explained. "If the violence gets under control, goes down to zero or as near to zero as you can make it, and when you speak out against this kind of violence, when you stop incitement in the press, and when you show this kind of positive movement to get the violence down, then I think you will get a response from the Israeli side and we can start to move forward.

Israeli officials, in reacting to Mr. Arafat's speech, say he made some positive points about ending terrorism, but they say the Palestinian leader will be judged by his actions not his words.

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