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Bush: Arafat Still Has to Do More to Stop Violence - 2002-03-24

President Bush says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has still not met cease-fire conditions that could lead to a meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney. Some U.S. senators say the vice president should not meet with Mr. Arafat until he demonstrates his commitment to stop attacks against Israeli civilians.

White House officials say the president is getting several updates a day from Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni who will try again Sunday to get the Palestinian leader to agree to a cease-fire. If he does, Mr. Bush says he is willing to send Vice President Dick Cheney back to the region to meet with the Palestinian leader.

But some U.S. senators say that is not a good idea. California Democrat Diane Feinstein has got 51 other senators to sign a letter to President Bush urging him to reconsider his offer until Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority demonstrate their commitment to end the violence.

While supporting General Zinni's mission, the senators' letter says they hope the U.S. envoy makes it clear that Washington "will not deal with those who do not live up to their commitments." They say Israel has the right to take what they call "necessary and appropriate measures" to ensure Israeli security, especially as they say there is no evidence that Mr. Arafat is willing to do what is needed to bring peace.

Speaking at a news conference in Peru, President Bush stressed there should be no doubt of the importance he places on Israeli security and his insistence that Mr. Arafat stop attacks against Israeli civilians.

"There has been no question that the United States has stood strong with Israel and we have made it very clear to Mr. Arafat that he is not doing all he can do to fight off terror," said Mr. Bush. "I can't be any more clearer than that."

Mr. Bush says his willingness to send the vice president back to the Middle East demonstrates his commitment to finding a peaceful settlement. "He might go back if and when Arafat performs," he added. "Surely those in the Congress you talk about appreciate the fact that the administration is engaged and sent General Zinni into the region."

President Bush says it is up to General Zinni to decide whether Mr. Arafat is serious about ending the violence and moving on to a security agreement negotiated by CIA Director George Tenet. If there is a meeting with Mr. Arafat, President Bush says it will not affect U.S. support for Israeli.

"General Zinni went to the Middle East. He is leading discussions," he explained. "But people shouldn't mistake our desire to get into Tenet as anything more than a desire to get to peace. And we will continue working to do so. And Prime Minister Sharon knows where the United States stands. We are strong allies with Israel. We have been ever since I have been the president and we will continue to be strong allies with Israel."

General Zinni's efforts have been frustrated by continuing violence between the two sides. Israeli forces Saturday killed at least five Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. There have been three Palestinian suicide bomb attacks since Wednesday.

Mr. Arafat said he would take "immediate" steps to stop Palestinian attacks after a suicide bomber killed himself and two Israelis in the center of Jerusalem Thursday. Another 40 people were injured in that blast which was claimed by an offshoot of a faction led by Mr. Arafat.