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US Lawmakers Support Bush's Call For New Palestinian Leadership - 2002-06-25

U.S. lawmakers are overwhelmingly supportive of President Bush's call for new leadership in the Palestinian Authority. But some Democrats are saying the President's Middle East peace proposals are too little too late.

Members of the U.S. Congress are generally welcoming Mr. Bush's call for new leadership to replace Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

That reaction is not surprising, as Congress has long been a strong supporter of Israel.

Senator Joe Biden, a Democrat from Delaware and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, calls Mr. Bush's plan 'a logical way to proceed', and said it is important to involve new Palestinian leaders.

Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said Mr. Bush's proposals in the Senator's words 'send a strong message to the Palestinians that the way to peace is not paved with acts of terror, but with good-faith negotiations, and acceptance that Israel has a right to exist.'

In the House of Representatives, the comments of Democrat Tom Lantos of California were even stronger. "Yasser Arafat has led the Palestinians to death, murder and destruction. Now as President Bush made clear, it is time for the Palestinians to choose a new leader, a new type of leader - nonviolent, democratic, and non-corrupt, if there is to be hope for peace," Mr. Lantos said.

But some Democrats who are seen as possible Presidential contenders in 2004 are questioning why Mr. Bush waited so long to outline his Middle East proposals. Some of them said the President has not gone far enough.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota - while praising Mr. Bush's speech as 'a clear and powerful statement of American principles', said the proposals were ones that many lawmakers have long been advocating.

Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee in 2000, expressed disappointment the administration is not sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region.

House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri, another Presidential hopeful, urged the administration to intensify its engagement in the peace process to 'fundamentally change the situation on the ground.'