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Bush, Sharon Meet to Discuss 'Fundamental Issues' - 2002-10-16

President Bush meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House Wednesday. The United States wants Israel to withdraw from Palestinian areas in the West Bank. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says President Bush is looking forward to the talks with the Israeli leader to discuss what he calls "the fundamental issues involving peace."

The president's "two-state" approach to the Middle East envisions a separate Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel. To accomplish that, Mr. Bush says Israeli troops must withdraw from Palestinian-ruled areas, Palestinians must stop bus bombings and reform their administration by electing new leaders, and Arab neighbors must stop supporting violence.

Mr. Fleischer says all three groups must take responsibility for their actions. "It continues to be very important, in the president's opinion, for Israel to live up to its responsibilities to help promote peace in the Middle East, for the Palestinians to do the same, and for the Arab neighbors to continue to do the same," he says. "There has been less violence in the region recently, but there is still too much violence in the region, and the president wants to make certain that the path toward reform is continued. That's where he sees the best prospects for peace in the future."

The Bush Administration wants Israel to withdraw from at least one of the six West Bank cities it has held since June and hand-over hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian tax revenues. The U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, sent a letter to Prime Minister Sharon over the weekend that also called for easing restrictions on the movements of Palestinians.

Since the president presented his Mideast plan in April, there had been some progress with Palestinian authorities reorganizing their finances and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat forced to fire his cabinet when the legislature threatened a vote of no-confidence. But what little progress there was toward peace slowed last month when Israeli troops again occupied Mr. Arafat's compound in Ramallah and destroyed most of the buildings.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns travels to the region later this week. He will stop in Paris to meet with Russian, European, and United Nations diplomats before visiting Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.