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US: Israel Should Let Arafat Attend Arab League Summit - 2002-03-25

The White House says Israel should let Yasser Arafat attend this week's Arab League summit in Lebanon. The Bush administration believes his absence could distract a very important meeting.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer says President Bush believes the Palestinian leader should go to Beirut. "The Israeli government of Prime Minister Sharon should give serious consideration to allowing Chairman Arafat to travel there, " he said.

Israel has said it will let Yasser Arafat travel to Lebanon if a cease-fire is in place. Mr. Fleischer says the United States agrees he has not done enough to stop Palestinian violence against Israelis.

But he says there are concerns that his absence could divert attention from an important summit agenda. "The American position is it is better for Chairman Arafat to be there than not to be there, in order for the summit to focus on peace," said Ari Fleischer. "That message has been conveyed and received by the Israeli government at numerous levels."

Ari Fleischer makes clear the White House believes a great deal is at stake. He says President Bush hopes Arab leaders will seize an opportunity in Beirut to push the peace process forward.

Mr. Fleischer makes specific mention of the peace initiative advanced by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah. "The crown prince's ideas involve, for the first time, recognition of the right of Israel to exist in secure borders along with some other issues that the president wants to make sure are carefully thought out and discussed," he said.

The White House spokesman describes the Saudi land-for-peace plan as "helpful." He says President Bush has welcomed those ideas and hopes they can be the real focal point of the Arab League Summit. The summit is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in the Lebanese capital.