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White House Seeks Arab Help in Promoting Mideast Peace Accord - 2002-05-01

The White House says it wants Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations to help push the Mideast peace process forward. But officials deny there is a new strategy in place that calls for the Americans to put pressure on Israel, while the Saudis use their influence with the Palestinians.

Published reports say the United States and Saudi Arabia struck an informal deal during Crown Prince Abdullah's trip last week to the Bush ranch in Texas.

These reports say they agreed on joint action to bring an end to the Palestinian-Israel conflict, with Washington focusing on the Israelis, and the Saudis pushing the Palestinians.

When asked about the reports, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush has been saying for some time that Arab nations have important responsibilities in the quest for peace.

"It has always been the president's view that the way to bring peace to the Middle East was to work with the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority and the Arab nations to find ways for all the parties to work together," the spokesman said. "And that involves multiple conversations on multiple levels."

Mr. Fleischer said it is over-simplistic to say one group of nations is going to target one group. He said there has not been "a division of labor."

The White House spokesman was asked if Saudi Arabia is now playing a special role in the peace process. He said that is for the Saudis to determine. But he left no doubt President Bush is pleased with the results of his meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah.

"The president and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia have established a very good relationship and Saudi Arabia is playing a constructive role in helping others to help themselves, so peace can be brought to the Middle East," he said.

On other matters related to the Middle East, Mr. Fleischer said the United States believes a U.N. fact finding mission should go to the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank.

"The United States does support fact finding in Jenin," he said. "The United States worked with the United Nations to try to bring about an agreement between Israel and the United Nations so the fact finders can go into Jenin and make a determination."

Palestinians claim war crimes were committed in Jenin by Israeli forces. Israel denies this and expresses concern a U.N. fact-finding mission will not be objective.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is expected to discuss these and other issues next week in Washington with President Bush. The president is also scheduled to meet Wednesday with Jordan's King Abdullah.