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Pressure Increases for US Involvement in Mideast Peace - 2002-04-02

President Bush is facing increasing pressure to step up his involvement in efforts to end the violence in the Middle East. Attempts by Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni over the past three weeks to negotiate a cease-fire have only been met with more terrorism aimed at Israel - and Israel's most aggressive assault into Arab land since its invasion of Lebanon two decades ago.

On Monday, President Bush expressed irritation over a reporter's question about whether he should become more involved in trying to end the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians. The president said, "They must not have been with me in Crawford when I was on the phone all morning long talking to world leaders."

Even so, there are increasing calls both in the United States and in the Middle East for the president to take a more active role in ending the violence. In an opinion that echoes the view of many, The New York Times wrote in an editorial Tuesday if the president chooses not to get more involved, Israel risks being consumed by bloodshed and the national aspirations of the Palestinians could be destroyed.

Zachary Lockman is chairman of Middle Eastern studies at New York University. He said, "Only a forceful American intervention and a reasonable American intervention will bring this orgy of bloodshed and 'tit for tat' to an end. A much higher level official should be sent with a mandate to get the Israelis and Palestinians talking again." So far, that effort has largely been left to administration envoy Anthony Zinni.

The president and his top aides have been using telephone diplomacy and televised news conferences to demand that Chairman Arafat stop terrorism, while telling Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to carefully weigh the consequences of his military assault.

Administration critics, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, point out that none of this has been able to break the cycle of violence that now has Israel on the verge of sending Yasser Arafat into exile again. Senator Biden said, "I think there needs to be something dramatic done and that means the President has to step up his involvement. I know Anthony Zinni is there but I think the secretary of state has to be more visible."

But at the moment, the administration is rejecting that advice, with Colin Powell telling CBS's The Morning Show the administration is not planning to send anyone else to the region. "We're ready to send whomever we have to where ever we have to," he said, "to get this process moving forward but not trips just for the sake of trips."

Vice President Dick Cheney was in the Middle East just two weeks ago, promising to return and meet with Yasser Arafat if a cease-fire took hold. Since then, the situation has only worsened. And for now, the administration is leaving the day-to-day negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in the hands of its Middle East envoy, Anthony Zinni.