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US Discusses Arafat Health Crisis with Palestinian, Israeli Officials

The State Department said Thursday it hopes that ailing Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat "gets the medical care he needs to return to health." The Bush administration ceased political dialogue with Mr. Arafat more than two years ago.

But the State Department says U.S. diplomats have been in touch with both Palestinian and Israeli officials on the Palestinian leader's latest health crisis, including plans for his possible treatment abroad and return to Ramallah.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher noted that Israeli officials have committed to facilitating access to proper medical care for Mr. Arafat, and that arrangements for his treatment and travel were being "worked out in a constructive manner" between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. Boucher said it is not a political issue for the United States, but rather a matter of seeing that an "ill person gets the medical care he needs to return to health."

Under questioning, the spokesman said it was not appropriate to speculate on what might happen in the event of the death of the 75-year-old Mr. Arafat. Yet, he downplayed the notion it might touch off violent upheaval among Palestinians.

"If you do follow what is going on out there, and we have been, the Palestinians seem to be working out their own arrangements for governance and responsible leadership," he said. "They have a prime minister, they have a government. So, we're following those discussions among them at this point. But that's where it should be. It's going to be something they're going to have to work on, whether it's during a period of illness, or something else."

The United States stopped talking to Mr. Arafat in 2002 because of his links to Palestinian terrorist factions.

But it has continued contacts with others in the Palestinian Authority, and officials here said Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns was involved in the latest discussions on Mr. Arafat's health.

Spokesman Boucher said there has been no change in the broader U.S. agenda toward the Palestinians.

The United States has been pressing for a transfer of control of Palestinian security forces from Mr. Arafat to Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, something U.S. officials say is increasingly urgent, in light of prospects for an Israeli pullout from the Gaza strip.