U.S. urges all in Mideast to take `hard steps'

Administration officials frustrated as Powell meets resistance to truce

April 15, 2002|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Facing stiff resistance to a Middle East cease-fire, the Bush administration demanded yesterday that the Palestinians, Israel and leaders of Arab states all take "hard steps" to break the cycle of bloodshed.

Officials said Arafat, whose three-hour meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday brought no apparent success, needs to use the "bully pulpit" of his new popularity to turn Palestinians away from terror and violence. Israel needs to step up its withdrawal from West Bank cities and recognize that military action alone won't protect the Jewish state from terrorism, they said.

Arab leaders, officials added, must "create a better environment" by renouncing terrorism and blocking the financing of it.

"This has been a decades-old conflict. And there is a reason for that, and that is that it takes hard steps to move forward," Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, said on NBC's Meet the Press.

Voicing the administration's frustration with the lack of success so far in Powell's mission to secure a truce, Rice said: "The key here is to have the parties concentrate on what they have to do, not on what the other side has to do."

There are, she said, "very tough things that need to be done by all of the parties - by the Palestinian Authority, which tonight has not really done the tough things that it needs to do to bring peace for its own people; things that the Israeli government needs to do; and then support for this process, an active support from the Arab neighbors."

Border conflict

Meanwhile, the administration tried to prevent the escalating 19-month conflict from spreading across the border into Lebanon and Syria as a result of stepped-up attacks against Israel by Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite guerrilla organization that is supported by Iran and Syria.

Powell will fly today to Beirut, and probably from there to Damascus, in a bid to get both countries to rein in Hezbollah, which opposes peace between Arabs and Israel and holds itself up as a model for Palestinian fighters.

In a visit to Israel's northern border Friday, Powell said, he got a sobering look at the possibility of cross-border confrontation.

The danger of a wider war, which could undo decades of U.S.-led peacemaking in the region, is a key reason behind Powell's open-ended mission to put together a truce between Israelis and Palestinians.

The administration fears such a conflict could destabilize the region, dealing a significant setback to its war on international terrorism and its goals of toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein and ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

Syria and Lebanon had been left off Powell's itinerary before he arrived in Israel. Both are reported to be chafing at the idea that they might be ignored in the new U.S.-led peace effort.

During stops last week in Morocco, Egypt, Spain and Jordan, Powell sought to enlist Arab and international support to call on the Palestinians to end terrorism and move toward a negotiated land-for-peace deal that would create a Palestinian state.

His aim was to give Arafat political cover for cracking down on Palestinian terrorists and thereby give Israel an incentive to pull back its forces in the West Bank and move to the peace table. Powell also wants to build on a proposal approved by the 22-nation Arab League calling for "normal relations" between Israel and Arab states in exchange for Israel's giving up the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, all territory occupied in the 1967 war.

On every step of Powell's journey, however, he has faced demands that the other side make the first conciliatory move.

For instance, none of the Arab leaders has so far delivered a full-throated public call for the Palestinians to stop suicide bombings. On Friday, Jordan's foreign minister, Marwan Muasher, said his country would call for an end to the violence only as part of an agreed-on "detailed and time-lined plan that would give people hope that indeed there is an end to this."

U.S. officials pressed Arafat yesterday to move beyond his statement Saturday condemning terrorism, including the attack in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market Friday that killed six Israelis. The statement, while in Arabic, was not delivered by Arafat personally.

Arafat's `bully pulpit'

"I think they'll be looking for ways for Chairman Arafat to actually use the bully pulpit of his leadership ... to bring clearly home to his people that violence to accomplish political ends is not going to be effective," Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said on CNN.

Israel's leaders don't want to interrupt their current offensive, in which thousands of Palestinians have been arrested, arguing that such a move would still leave Israel vulnerable to continued suicide-bombing attacks.

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