The State Department says the United States is not severing all contact with Yasser Arafat despite President Bush's call Monday for new leaders to guide the Palestinians toward statehood. But it says re-electing Mr. Arafat in the vote planned for January would be taking Palestinians down a "dead-end road."
Mr. Arafat has had no contact with U.S. diplomats since the American consul-general in Jerusalem, Ronald Schlicher, met with him last week.
But officials here say there has been no order from the White House to cease meetings with him, and that U.S. officials will continue talking to a "full range" of Palestinian officials in advance of elections next January, in part to continue prodding Mr. Arafat and his associates to crack down on terrorism.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States would not try to choose leaders for the Palestinians. But he added that if Mr. Arafat is kept in power after January, it will frustrate Palestinian hopes for statehood and outside aid.
"They can choose a dead-end road that hasn't led them to fulfill their aspirations," he said. "Or they can choose to follow a different path, a path of reform, of institution-building and create the kind of state that can have the support of the United States, the international community, and others. So, in the end I guess, we recognize the choice is theirs. We're not trying to choose candidates, choose leaders. What we've said [is that] this leadership, this direction, has not gotten you what you want."
A report in The Washington Post Wednesday said President Bush decided to take a tougher line against Mr. Arafat after seeing intelligence information, provided by Israel, that Mr. Arafat had authorized a $20,000 payment to a terrorist faction, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which claimed responsibility for the most recent suicide attack in Jerusalem.
A senior official here, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the administration had gotten what he termed "credible" information of that nature from Israel.
However he said the United States has gathered "plenty" of material of its own linking senior officials of the Palestinian Authority to terror activity, notably including the Karine A arms smuggling plot exposed last January.
Spokesman Boucher said Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Maher and Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher Wednesday for follow-up discussions on the president's policy message. But he said there was no expectation of a call to Mr. Arafat.