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US Still Pursuing Two-State Solution to Mideast Crisis - 2004-03-23


President Bush says he is still pursuing a two-state solution to Middle East violence following Israel's assassination of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Mr. Bush says he may send a diplomatic team back to the region next week.

President Bush said the Israeli attacks that killed Sheik Yassin were "troubling," and he called for a focused, concerted effort by both sides to fight terrorism.

"Any country has the right to defend herself from terror. Israel has the right to defend herself from terror," he said. "And as she does so, I hope she keeps consequences in mind as to how to make sure we stay on the path to peace."

The president says he is still committed to the creation of a separate Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel. That is the focus of an internationally backed plan known as the "road map" for peace that Mr. Bush says is good for Israel and the Palestinian people.

That "road map" has made little progress in the last few months as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pushed to continue building a security barrier between Israeli and Palestinian areas.

In hopes of reviving that "road map," President Bush said he will send a diplomatic team to the Middle East next week, if, in his words, the circumstances on the ground allow.

Following Sheik Yassin's death, Hamas leaders said they would fight Israel everywhere. That has raised concerns that Hamas may turn its attention to U.S. targets in retaliation for Washington's support for Israel.

After a cabinet meeting on the economy, President Bush told reporters he is worried about all terrorist groups who are targeting America.

"There are still people who want to harm our country," he said. "And so whether it be a Hamas threat or an al-Qaida threat, we take them very seriously in this administration."

U.S. embassies in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen are warning Americans to be cautious and avoid demonstrations. In Israel, the U.S. embassy renewed calls for Americans to leave the Gaza Strip immediately.

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