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Britain: No Alternative to Arafat - 2002-06-13

Britain says the international community must continue to deal with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as it seeks peace in the Middle East.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says that despite President Bush's recent criticism of Yasser Arafat, there is no alternative to the Palestinian leader.

Mr. Straw explained his views in an interview on British radio Thursday.

"We have to deal with the leaders who are there for the time being. And that obviously includes Mr. Arafat," he said.

Mr. Straw spoke at the foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized countries meeting in Whistler, Canada.

He said Secretary of State Colin Powell briefed officials there on an American Middle East peace plan that President Bush will announce soon.

"What Colin Powell has been talking about here at Whistler is the proposals which the United States government have, in which he is in the lead, for trying to take a peace process forward," he said. "And that includes possibly - the recognition of what is described as a transitional state of Palestine to put flesh on what President Bush talked about at the United Nations General Assembly in November."

Mr. Straw says the U.S. plan lays out timelines for a permanent settlement of what he called "the desperate plight" of both the Israelis and Palestinians.

The British foreign secretary spoke one day after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited London to discuss the Middle East crisis with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Spokesmen say Mr. Sharon argued that Mr. Arafat is not doing enough to stop attacks against Israelis, while Mr. Blair urged the Israeli leader to restart the peace process.