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Arab Countries Urge US to Seek Mideast Political Solution - 2002-04-05

Arab countries are welcoming President Bush's decision to dispatch Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East. Some of Washington's closest Arab allies are warning if the United States does not begin discussions on a long term settlement to the Israeli - Palestinian conflict, the Middle East is likely to see widespread violence and instability.

Senior Arab ambassadors in Washington are convinced Secretary Powell's trip next week will achieve nothing unless the United States begins exerting more pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Jordan's Charge D'affaires Jafar Hassan warns the Israeli leader is leading the Middle East down a dead-end street. "Whatever he is doing now will get him no where. It will get the Israelis no where. It will get the Palestinians no where. It will only backfire on everybody in the region, Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs. The spill over effect of this is tremendous. We can see it on our TV screens," he said.

For the first time since Israel began its assault on Yasser Arafat's headquarters, President Bush Thursday called on Israel to bring its military sweep through the West Bank to an end, something Israeli embassy Spokesman Mark Regev expects will happen soon. "This mission from the very beginning was called a limited operation both in time and in scope. The mission will be concluded, and it will be wound up and I expect that will be done before Powell arrives, yes," Mr.Regev said.

But while welcoming the decision for the Secretary of State to go to the Middle East, key Arab allies Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon are all warning the United States can no longer insist on a complete end to violence before opening talks on the deeper political issues dividing Israel and the Palestinians.

"I don't think you can come out with a solution today that simply says achieve a cease-fire and then we'll talk. Without the U.S., we won't get there, point blank, no reservations, no qualifications. If you continue to wait, what you will do is plant the seeds of more violence on both sides," Egypt's ambassador in Washington Nabil Fahmy said.

Over the past week, thousands of people have demonstrated against Israel and the United States in capitals across the Arab world. Jordan's Charge Hassan warns Middle East violence is pushing Arab populations to the boiling point and putting Arab governments friendly to the United States in a delicate position. Nearly a third of Jordan's population is made up of Palestinian refugees. "Everyday they hear news about their folks and about their relatives and friends being killed or injured or traumatized. So for us, this a major internal, domestic issue. It's a fundamental core problem," Mr. Hassan said.

One that is leading Arab nations to demand the Bush Administration intervene more forcefully. For Lebanese ambassador Farid Abboud, that means getting the White House to tell Ariel Sharon Israel will achieve nothing if it thinks a solution can be achieved militarily. "It is a political problem, it is not a police problem. This city should be very careful before labeling the phenomenon as such and dealing with it as such. There is a political problem and violence against civilians is part of it," Mr.Abboud said.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Powell said he would be willing to go to the Middle East but only when the time is right. Now, recognizing the sense of urgency, the Bush Administration has not only agreed to send him but to drop its insistence that negotiations first focus first on cementing a cease fire before discussion move on to the political issues needed for a deeper settlement of the Israeli - Palestinian conflict.