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Bush Refuses Sharon Plea to Cut Arafat Ties - 2002-02-08

President Bush says Yasser Arafat has not done enough to stop violence against Israel. But he makes clear he is not ready to cut off ties with the Palestinian leader. The president spoke at the end of a White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Sharon came to Washington hoping to convince the Bush administration to cut off all contact with Yasser Arafat. President Bush politely refused but vowed to keep the pressure on. "Mr. Arafat has heard from us. I can't be more clear in my position and that is that he must do everything in his power to fight terror," he said.

Prime Minister Sharon listened silently and then offered a warning. He said Yasser Arafat is not interested in stopping the violence. "Myself and my government regard Arafat as an obstacle to peace. Arafat has chosen a strategy of terror and formed a coalition of terror," he said.

But hidden amidst the tough talk about the situation in the region was a glimmer of hope from Israel's Prime Minister. "I believe that one day we will be reaching a peace. Israel is committed to peace. And at the end of the process I believe we will see a Palestinian state," he said.

President Bush has also talked in recent months of his vision of a Palestinian state at the conclusion of the peace process. He told reporters that in the near term, something must be done to improve the everyday lives of the Palestinian people.

"I am deeply concerned about the plight of the average Palestinian, the moms and dads who are trying to raise their children, educate their children," Mr. Bush said.

This was the fourth meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon in less than a year. Mr. Bush has never met with Yasser Arafat. When asked about the disparity, White House officials simply say they schedule meetings when they think the sessions will be useful.