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Eqyptian President Cautions Bush on Downgrading Arafat Ties - 2002-01-28

The Bush administration says it is still not satisfied with efforts by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to curb terrorism, and says U.S. policy toward Mr. Arafat and his Palestinian Authority remains under review. President Bush spoke by telephone Monday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who opposes any downgrade in U.S. ties with the Palestinians.

Administration officials acknowledge Mr. Arafat's arrest of a Palestinian security official who has been implicated in an effort foiled by Israel earlier this month to smuggle a shipload of Iranian arms, reportedly bound for Gaza.

But noting that past terror suspects have been quickly freed by Palestinian authorities, they say they are still awaiting proof that Mr. Arafat is ready to wage a long-term and reliable campaign against extremists carrying out anti-Israeli violence from areas under his control.

Speaking at a White House event with Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai, President Bush stressed his continuing concern about the smuggling affair, for which U.S. officials blame top Arafat associates if not the Palestinian leader himself.

"There are people in the region that want there to be a peaceful settlement, and yet obviously terrorists are trying to prevent that from happening by wanton murder," he said. "And Mr. Arafat must join the effort to arrest them. And when the ship showed up with weapons obviously aimed at terrorizing that part of the world, I expressed my severe disappointment because I was led to believe that he was willing to join us in the fight against terror."

Mr. Bush spoke after a phone conversation with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who along with other Arab allies in the region is cautioning the administration not to back away from Mr. Arafat or efforts to mediate an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.

The President said he told Mr. Mubarak in the 15-minute conversation that ridding the area of terrorism will make peace and stability more likely.

State Department officials say a review of the U.S. approach to Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority continues, though they say the administration will remain committed to and engaged in efforts to achieve peace.

They have raised the possibility of downgrading U.S. contacts with Mr. Arafat, closing Palestinian offices in Washington or putting part of his "Fatah" political movement on the U.S. list of terrorist groups.

In the meantime, the administration is continuing to delay a resumption of the mediation mission of U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, which has been sought by Mr. Arafat and which would have the effect of easing the diplomatic isolation of the Palestinian leader at his offices in Ramallah.