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Bush  to Press Sharon on Settlements - 2002-05-05

The White House is preparing for crucial talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Mr. Sharon is carrying documents that he says show a personal link between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and terrorist activities. Bush administration officials leave no doubt they are preparing for some tough talk.

While Ariel Sharon was making his way to Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell was talking about the Middle East on American television.

In a series of interviews, he made clear that the administration will press the prime minister on sensitive points, including the future of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and the need to deal with Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Powell told NBC's Meet the Press that Israel cannot hope to negotiate peace while building new settlements. "I think it is clear both in the previous administration and in this administration that something has to be done about the problem of settlements," he said.

In a subsequent interview on the ABC program This Week, the secretary of state was asked about Israeli efforts to discredit Yasser Arafat, and dismiss him as a negotiating partner. He said as long as the Palestinian people back Mr. Arafat, the Israelis have to bow to reality. "It serves our interests, the Israeli interests and the interests of the Palestinian people and the other nations in the region," Mr. Powell said. "It serves us all better if we continue to work with all Palestinian leaders and to recognize who the Palestinian people look to as their leader."

U.S. President George W. Bush has been pushing Mr. Arafat to take action to combat terrorism and violence, and has said the Palestinian leader has not earned his trust. The president's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, told the Fox television network that the United States can not chose the leader of the Palestinian people. During an appearance on television's Fox News Sunday she stressed the White House strongly believes the Palestinian Authority must implement reforms. "The Palestinian leadership that is there now, the Authority, is not the kind of leadership that can lead to the kind of Palestinian state that we need," she said. "It has got to reform, it has got to make changes in the security apparatus, in the Constitution, in the way that it leads."

Ms. Rice said the Bush administration hopes other Arab nations and European countries will step up pressure on Yasser Arafat. "This is not just for the benefit of Israel," she observed, "the Palestinian people are suffering. We are very concerned about their plight. They cannot move to prosperity and well-being in conditions of terror. They cannot do it in conditions in which there is great distrust and hatred between Israel and its neighbors. This is also for the Palestinian people."

President Bush meets with Prime Minister Sharon on Tuesday. It will be their fifth meeting, and the first since the start of the Israeli incursion into the West Bank in late March. Mr. Bush will also be continuing his stepped up diplomacy with Arab leaders, consulting Wednesday at the White House with Jordan's King Abdullah.