Top Bush administration officials say the U.S. is not dealing with Yasser Arafat now and probably will not in the future. In a series of appearances on American television, administration officials defended the president's Middle East peace plan and his call for new Palestinian leadership.
Secretary of State Colin Powell says Yasser Arafat's leadership is flawed and there can be no progress toward peace as long as he is in power.
He said he hopes the Palestinian people weigh options carefully before they go to the polls in January. "I hope Palestinians will look at the situation they find themselves in and examine the leadership they have been receiving over the years and make a judgment that perhaps they can do better," he said.
Speaking on the Fox News Sunday television program, Mr. Powell said in the months leading up to the January elections, the United States plans to help other Palestinian leaders who want to chart a new course.
In subsequent interviews, the Secretary of State said he has no plans to meet with Yasser Arafat. He told CBS's Face the Nation that for 18 months, the Bush administration has been working hard to get the peace process back on track, only to have its efforts thwarted by the head of the Palestinian Authority. "Things would have gotten started, we would have been way along, if the violence had been brought down," said Mr. Powell. "Chairman Arafat simply did not seize any of these opportunities to bring the violence under control, using his moral authority as a leader of the Palestinian people, or the authority he had under him, the organizations he had under him."
White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice carried on that theme during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press. "This administration has tried with the current Palestinian leadership to make progress but all we have gotten in return is continued activities that support and encourage terror," she said.
Ms. Rice was asked what President Bush might do if the Palestinians re-elect Yasser Arafat. She said the Palestinians must realize what is at stake. "He is not trying to pick the leadership of the Palestinian people," said Condoleezza Rice. "But we are saying that there are consequences if we keep the kind of leadership, if we see the kind of leadership that we have had."
Both the secretary of state and the national security advisor made clear the president will not back down from the strict conditions he set for the creation of even a provisional Palestinian state.
Although he did not mention Yasser Arafat by name, Mr. Bush stressed before there can be statehood, there must be new Palestinian leadership.