The European Union's top diplomat, Javier Solana, is urging the Bush administration not to sever ties with Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority. The administration has its relations with Mr. Arafat under review because of his failure to confront anti-Israeli terror.
The European Union is joining major Arab allies of the United States, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in calling on the Bush administration to maintain relations with Mr. Arafat.
The administration has been considering punitive steps against the Palestinian leader, including a possible cut-off of ties, in the wake of attacks on Israeli civilians this month by militant factions linked to Mr. Arafat's "Fatah" movement, and an attempt by Palestinians, thwarted by Israel, to smuggle in a boatload of Iranian weapons.
Speaking to reporters here after a meeting on the Middle East and other issues with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Mr. Solana, the European Union high representative for foreign and security policy, said he agreed on the need to pressure Chairman Arafat to curb terrorism.
But he said the United States should keep talking to Mr. Arafat as the Palestinians' elected representative. "We have to continue to put pressure so that they fight against terrorism and reduce terror in the region," he said. "But we consider - this is the position of the European Union - that the Palestinian Authority continues to be the interlocutor; the only interlocutor elected by the Palestinian people and we would like to maintain that, that everybody has to make an effort so that that representation is real."
Secretary Powell is expected to get a similar message from Jordan's King Abdullah, who visits the State Department late Thursday on the eve of a White House meeting with President Bush.
Mr. Bush has not met with Mr. Arafat since taking office, though he has had several meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and will see him again early next month.
The president Monday expressed disappointment with Mr. Arafat over the arms smuggling affair, which the administration believes involved senior figures in the Palestinian Authority, if not Mr. Arafat himself.
While it considers steps against Mr. Arafat, the administration has suspended an effort by U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni to broker an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.