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Sharon Criticizes European Links to Arafat - 2003-07-13

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has reaffirmed his commitment to continued negotiations with his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, and criticized European nations for maintaining ties with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Mr. Sharon spoke on the U.S. television program Fox News Sunday, before traveling to London for talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Ariel Sharon says progress toward Middle East peace is possible, as long as Yasser Arafat does not interfere. Speaking from his ranch, the Israeli prime minister said the Palestinian president must be kept on the sidelines of the peace process, and he criticized unspecified European governments for maintaining ties with Mr. Arafat.

"Yasser Arafat conducted a strategy of terror for the last 40 years. He is a Palestinian leader that has brought no peace and a lot of suffering to the Palestinians," Mr. Sharon said. "[Mr.] Arafat should be removed from any position of influence [in Palestinian leadership]. The problem we have is with some European countries that still support and back him [Arafat]. And by that, they are postponing the possibility of reaching peace here."

A power struggle has emerged between Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Mr. Arafat, who is believed to favor a tougher Palestinian stand on Israel's full compliance with measures specified in a Middle East peace plan. Last week, Mr. Abbas threatened to resign in the absence of support for his handling of contacts with Israel.

Mr. Sharon says Yasser Arafat is making every effort to undermine Prime Minister Abbas. The Israeli prime minister says Mr. Abbas understands that agreement can only be reached through negotiations, without the use of terror.

In a separate appearance on U.S. television, President Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, echoed support for Prime Minister Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.

"We have been very clear that we think the future is with the Palestinian leadership of Abu Mazen and his reform Cabinet," she said. "The president, in fact, believes that that is one of the reasons that we have a new opportunity for peace. As for the Europeans and others, we have made no secret of the fact that we think it does not help to deal with Yasser Arafat. We hope that he is not, somehow, trying to stand in the way of a positive future for his people."

On another point, Ms. Rice also criticized Iran for failing to recognize Israel's right to exist.

Israeli Prime Minister Sharon says Iran constitutes a major security threat in the region, and that his government has evidence of Iranian attempts to derail the peace process.