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Bush Renews Demand for New Palestinian Leadership - 2002-07-17

President Bush is renewing his call for new Palestinian leadership. He spoke shortly before suicide bombers attacked again in Israel.

At a press conference with the president of Poland, Mr. Bush was asked if he could accept Yasser Arafat in a figurehead role.

He did not answer directly. But he did renew his demand for new Palestinian leadership. "Mr. Arafat has failed to deliver. I still feel that way," he said. "And I know the Palestinian people will be better served by new leadership."

President Bush said Yasser Arafat wants to be the focus of the debate. But he said the issue is much bigger than one man. "Mr. Arafat would like the whole issue to be about him. That is the way it has been in the past," he emphasized. "Except when you analyze his record, he has failed the Palestinian people."

A few hours later, word reached Washington of another suicide attack against Israelis, this one involving two bombers in Tel Aviv. White House spokesman Scott McClellan condemned the bloodshed, calling it a "despicable act of terrorism."

All this comes at a time when the Bush administration is stepping up its diplomatic efforts to get the Middle East peace process back on track. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell met in New York with top representatives of Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

The discussions of the so-called "quartet" produced movement on matters related to humanitarian aid and political reform. But there was no meeting of the minds on Yasser Arafat's role in the Palestinian leadership.

In his comments at the press conference, President Bush put the New York meeting in the best possible light, saying there was progress on reforms.

"My focus of my administration is to work with leaders from around the world, some of whom were in New York yesterday, to work to make sure there is a new constitution that divides power so that one person doesn't get to decide the fate of a group of people who have suffered mightily," he explained.

The president steps up his personal diplomacy on Thursday when he meets at the White House with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. He will host Jordan's King Abdullah on August 1.