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Bush Criticizes Arafat for Lack of Progress in Ending Violence - 2002-02-01


President Bush says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat must do more to end violence in the Middle East. The president discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Friday in a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah.

President Bush said Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority must demonstrate their willingness to act against those responsible for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. Without such leadership, President Bush said, violence will continue to block the peace process. "There is a plan for peace, but it starts with a full-focused effort to fight terror," he said, "and Mr. Arafat must do a better job. We believe he can do a better job - and he must do a better job."

President Bush criticized Mr. Arafat for an alleged attempt to smuggle 50 tons of Iranian explosives, rockets and mortars into Palestinian-controlled territory. Mr. Bush said the time has come for Mr. Arafat to show the world that he is willing to join the fight against terror. "I felt like we were making pretty good progress up until the time when we discovered, the world discovered, that there had been a significant shipment of arms ordered from Iran for - it seems like to us - only one purpose and that is ... for terrorist purposes," said the president. "And we can't let that stand. And frankly that is in total contrast to what he assured us, not only through his decisions in Oslo, but verbally, that he would help us fight against terror. Mr. Arafat must lead."

The president would not respond to questions about Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's statement this week that he regretted that Mr. Arafat was not killed years ago. Mr. Bush said instead that it is best to keep the focus on what is derailing the peace process, which is terrorism.

Prime Minister Sharon will be at the White House next week where he is expected to encourage President Bush to take action against the Palestinian Authority, including the possible closure of its Washington office.

King Abdullah Friday backed the U.S. position on the Middle East without directly addressing the president's obvious disappointment with Mr. Arafat. "I know Mr. President where your heart is on many of the regional issues to try and bring peace and stability to the area," he said, "and we are very grateful for your vision in that and for your courage and determination to really bring a better world to our part of the Middle East."

The leaders also discussed the threat of global terrorism, and King Abdullah backed the president's warning to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea that they not help terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction.

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