Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is brushing aside U.S. calls for Israeli troops' immediate withdrawal from six Palestinian-ruled towns in the West Bank. He met at the White House Tuesday with President Bush as the administration, for the second day, continued to press Israel to reverse its largest incursion into the West Bank in nearly a decade.
Foreign Minister Peres told reporters Israel will not pull back from the West Bank until Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority arrests suspected terrorists, including those responsible for last week's assassination of Israeli tourism minister.
But a senior U.S. official says Secretary of State Colin Powell told Mr. Peres Israel needs to get out of these newly-occupied areas as soon as possible. His spokesman Richard Boucher was even more direct. "We think the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) should be withdrawn immediately," he said. "It's clear that its presence there contributes to an escalation of violence."
While attempting to downplay any differences with the United States, Mr. Peres told reporters after meeting with President Bush Israel will not leave re-occupied areas until it's certain Yasser Arafat has re-established security. "The minute the Palestinians will take over in their own hands the introduction of law and tranquility and put in jail the main troublemakers, we shall be more than happy to re-deploy our army to their previous locations," he said.
In a sign the Arab-Israeli violence may be having a direct effect on the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Peres says President Bush suggested to him violence in the Middle East is making it more difficult to keep the anti-terrorism coalition together.
A number of Arab allies, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have been calling on the United States to become more engaged in the Middle East peace process, and want Washington to put more pressure on Israel to curtail military action against the Palestinians.