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Bush Satisfied With Israeli Withdrawal Timetable - 2002-04-18

President Bush says Israel is living up to its promised timetable for withdrawal from Palestinian areas in the West Bank. At the same time, he says, Yasser Arafat must match his condemnation of terrorism with action.

President Bush originally called almost two weeks ago for a total Israeli withdrawal without delay. Israel responded with its own timetable for a phased pullout.

The president is trying to put that turn of events in the best possible light, saying the withdrawals are continuing.

"History will show that they have responded," the president said. " And, as the prime minister said, he gave me a timetable, and he has met the timetable."

Mr. Bush says he still wants to see a complete withdrawal. He says, however, that he understands there are extraordinary circumstances in Ramallah and Bethlehem.

In Ramallah, Israel says, five men wanted in the death of an Israeli Cabinet minister have taken refuge in Yasser Arafat's headquarters. In Bethlehem, Israeli forces are in a standoff with armed Palestinians inside the Church of the Nativity.

The president says Israel appears to be meeting its responsibilities. He says he is still waiting for action from the Palestinian leader.

"Mr. Arafat did condemn terror. And now, we will hold him to account," Mr. Bush said.

The president spoke at the start of a meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who just completed a mission to the region. Mr. Bush said Secetary Powell made progress, even though he failed to achieve a cease-fire.

"The situation prior to the secretary's arrival was at a boiling point. And, thanks to his hard work, he has laid out not only a vision of hope, which is important, but has convinced others that these terrorist acts will forever and constantly undermine the capacity for peace," the president said.

It is unclear what the Bush administration will do next to try to ease the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer downplayed the notion that Secretary Powell will return quickly to the region. But he stressed the United States will remain engaged, and is pushing the goals laid out by the president in early April.

"There continues to be an ongoing series of talks to try to follow through on the president's Rose Garden speech and those talks are constructive and important," said Mr. Fleischer.

The White House spokesman said that before meeting with Secretary Powell, the president called Jordan's King Abdallah to talk about the quest for peace. Next week, Mr. Bush will meet in Washington with Morocco's King Mohamed and at his Texas ranch with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah.