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US Lawmakers Continue Pressure on Bush to Oppose Palestinian State - 2002-06-19

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are urging President Bush not to support a provisional Palestinian state as part of a vision for Mideast peace he is expected to announce. Their positions were aired at a congressional hearing Tuesday that took place after the latest suicide bombing in Israel.

Lawmakers took the opportunity to send yet another strong signal to Palestinians, and to the president, of congressional anger and concern over the violence, and the direction of U.S. policy.

Republican Congressman Benjamin Gilman said suicide attacks must stop forever if the Palestinian people are ever to witness a Palestinian state. "Moreover, President Bush must make it clear to President Arafat, and the Palestinian people, that no state can ever be declared provisionally or otherwise, until the violence ends," he said.

In testimony before the committee, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, William Burns, repeated U.S. condemnation of the latest attack. "Let me be clear. Cold-blooded murder of innocent schoolchildren has no place in civilized society. No cause, however, legitimate, can justify terror or be advanced through violence. There is absolutely no middle ground here," he said. "All terror and violence must halt."

Mr. Burns said he could not discuss specifics of President Bush's expected statement. Its key elements, he said, would be Palestinian reform, institution-building in preparation for statehood, and "real performance" by all the parties.

But lawmakers said the president should not commit U.S. policy, to any degree, on a Palestinian state given the latest suicide bombing. "I don't even think there should be discussion, even discussion, of a Palestinian state until these acts of terrorism stop. When they blow up a bus, and kill schoolchildren on their way to school, like they did this morning, it all ends," said Republican Dan Burton. "You say, OK, when this stuff stops, we'll start talking again. And I hope the president's speech this week reflects that."

Congressman Eliot Engel of New Jersey said a U.S. statement at this point endorsing a Palestinian state in any form, would amount to giving in to terrorism.

"He really ought not to do it. There would be no other thing to read into that than rewarding terrorism, and allow them to use terrorism as a negotiating tool," he said. "It undermines our war on terrorism, it undermines the clarity with which the president spoke when he said, 'you're either with us or you're with the terrorists.'"

At Tuesday's hearing, there was also discussion of Iraq, amid reports about U.S. planning of covert steps to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Burns said there should be no doubting U.S. resolve to prevent Saddam Hussein from threatening the region with weapons of mass destruction, and that Iraq's people would be better off with a change of regime in Baghdad.

One lawmaker, Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman of New York, said the administration must undertake what he called, serious and sustained consultation with Congress before any action is taken.