Vice President Dick Cheney says he has no current plans to meet with Yasser Arafat. Mr. Cheney says it is unlikely he will see the Palestinian leader before the Arab League summit, which opens Wednesday in Beirut.
At the end of his recent trip to the Mideast, Mr. Cheny said he was willing to make a quick return visit to see Yasser Arafat if certain conditions were met.
There was speculation in the region that the meeting could take place as soon as Monday. But the vice president says that Yasser Arafat still has not done enough to halt Palestinian violence against Israel. "I will not hold the meeting unless we see those circumstances that we specified," he reiterated. "To date we have not seen them, but if we do then I am prepared to go forward to the meeting."
Mr. Cheney told the NBC television program Meet the Press that he would not rule out a meeting in the future. But he stressed once again that before anything can happen Yasser Arafat must implement a cease-fire plan mediated last year by Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet.
The vice-president says Middle-East Envoy Anthony Zinni will inform the White House when the conditions have been met. "This is all going to depend upon what happens on the ground in Israel," he said. "I will be guided very much by General Zinni's thinking. Part of the purpose is to give him some leverage over the process."
Vice President Cheney was then asked if he thinks the Israeli government should clear the way for Yasser Arafat to attend the Arab League summit. Mr. Cheney said his absence could distract the Beirut meeting and turn its attention away from the peace initiative put forward by Saudi Arabia. "We think the summit will be probably a positive contribution, if, in fact, that is the focus of the discussion of the debate," he observed. "If Arafat is not there then the concern is that he will become the focus. The fact that he is not there."
Vice President Cheney noted the Israeli government is divided on the issue. He said Foreign Minister Shimon Peres thinks the Palestinian leader should be allowed to go to Beirut, but added that at the moment Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not seem to accept that view.