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US Still Considering Mideast Trip by CIA Director - 2002-05-16


The Bush administration says it is still considering a Middle East trip by CIA director George Tenet in the near future as part of an international effort to help rebuild a Palestinian security force. Mr. Tenet was heavily involved in Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire efforts last year.

Officials here say discussions are continuing within the administration about a Tenet trip to the Middle East, despite skepticism by Israel about whether Palestinian security services can be reformed as long as Yasser Arafat remains head of the Palestinian Authority.

The United States believes that Palestinian institutions, including the security apparatus, have to be rebuilt and made more democratic as part of an effort to put the parties back on a path toward peace negotiations. Earlier this month, President Bush announced plans to send the CIA director to the area to begin that effort, but no date has yet been given for the mission.

The New York Times Thursday quoted an unnamed senior Israeli official as saying that reform in the Palestinian security services could not be achieved as long as Mr. Arafat remains in charge and that he could see "no utility" for a Tenet trip.

However, briefing reporters here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said building a Palestinian security service capable of curbing terror and working constructively with Israel will clearly require a direct U.S. role.

"If you're going to do that, you've got to get on the ground, you've got to work with them and you've got to rebuild an institution, as the president said, that's clean, that has no corruption, that is transparent, and is as open as possible and has no ties to terrorism," he said.

The spokesman said Secretary of State Colin Powell and Mr. Tenet talked Thursday about a visit to the area by the CIA chief as early as next week.

But he also said the CIA director, who tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a cease-fire between the sides last year, might also invite Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs to meet him in Washington.

In another development, officials here released the content of a State Department report to Congress this week which said there is "no conclusive evidence" that senior Palestinian officials including Mr. Arafat were involved in planning anti-Israel attacks last year.

But the report, a periodic requirement under decade-old legislation, said the "weight of evidence" suggests that Palestinian leaders knew of attacks by militant groups within the structure of the PLO and "did little to rein them in."

The report covered only June-to-December of last year and did not include attacks or incidents after that, including January's Karine-A arms smuggling affair or the suicide bombings that precipitated the Israeli military offensive in the West Bank.

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