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Leading US Senator Holds Talks with Palestinians, Israelis - 2002-12-23

U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman has held talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as part of his tour of the Middle East. During a visit to the West Bank town of Ramallah on Monday, Senator Lieberman expressed support for a Palestinian state and spoke of the desperate conditions facing Palestinians. During talks earlier with Israel's prime minister, Mr. Lieberman said both Israel and the United States are involved in a fight against terrorism.

Senator Lieberman was in Ramallah Monday to meet with several Palestinian officials, including Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo and cabinet minister Saeb Erekat.

The senator was said to be taken aback by the amount of destruction in the city, which has been re-occupied by Israeli troops since June. He spoke of the desperate humanitarian conditions facing Ramallah's residents.

The American lawmaker also said there is strong support in U.S. political circles for Palestinian statehood, but he said how quickly that happens, depends on strong leadership among the Palestinians and in the world. Mr. Lieberman, an orthodox Jew with distant relatives in Israel, is considered a frontrunner to be the Democratic party's candidate in the U.S. presidential elections in 2004. The senator said he will decide early next year whether to seek the nomination.

Senator Lieberman met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Sunday and said that both Israel and the United States are trying to defeat terrorist enemies seeming to draw a connection between Israel's conflict with the Palestinian and the U.S.-led global war on terrorism.

The reasons for Senator Lieberman's current Middle East tour are unclear but the area is a stop favored by U.S. presidential hopefuls.