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US Congress Ambivalent about Arafat's Intentions


A group of U.S. lawmakers is welcoming Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's calls for an end to violence against Israelis and reform of his organization. But they are also touting proposed legislation that would impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority if Mr. Arafat does not make good on those commitments.

Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman of New York praised Mr. Arafat's latest comments pledging reform and an end to violence.

But Mr. Ackerman, a member of the International Relations Middle East Subcommittee, said sanctions legislation he introduced in the House Wednesday would force the Palestinian leader to keep his word.

"We will applaud his words and encourage them, but that is insufficient," he noted. "Words do not cure anything. He says he is going in a different direction, but he has to prove it, until then, we want to keep the pressure up."

Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri is co-sponsor of the so-called Arafat Accountability Act. He said any hope of a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies with Mr. Arafat's total abdication of acts of terrorism and willingness to abide by agreements already in place.

"What we really want to see is [his making good on] his commitment to do what he said he was going to do," said congressman Blunt.

Under the bill, it would be up to President Bush to decide whether Mr. Arafat is living up to his commitments. If Mr. Bush determines the Palestinian leader is not, he could impose a number of sanctions.

Those sanctions include denying visas to Mr. Arafat or other Palestinian Authority officials, downgrading Palestinian Authority representation in the United States, placing travel restrictions on the senior Palestinian Authority Representative at the United Nations, and confiscating assets of Mr. Arafat and his organization.

The Bush administration is opposed to the legislation, fearing it would undermine its diplomatic peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians. Congressman Ackerman dismissed such concerns.

"We are not looking to tie the administration's hands in any way," he said. "They run foreign policy, we are helping to formulate it."

Sponsors noted the measure includes a national security waiver to allow Mr. Bush to set aside any penalties.

Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate last month by Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Democrat Diane Feinstein of California. Mr. McConnell, sensitive to the administration's concerns, says he will hold off seeking a vote on the measure in the full Senate for the time being.