May 9, 2002
WASHINGTON -- President Bush praised Yasser Arafat's condemnation of terrorism Wednesday as an "incredibly positive sign" but said the Palestinian leader must match his words with deeds after a suicide attack near Tel Aviv killed 15 people and threatened to disrupt the administration's latest peace efforts.
Though Bush stopped short of calling on Israel to exercise restraint in retaliating for Tuesday night's bombing, he urged Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to keep "his vision of peace in mind" as he weighs new military operations against the Palestinians.
Administration officials pressed ahead with their hectic Middle East diplomacy, promising not to be deterred by the bombing that prompted Sharon to cut short his U.S. visit and return home to confer with top army and security officials.
Speaking to reporters before an Oval Office meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II, Bush said his goal for the Palestinian Authority now headed by Arafat was that it "put structures in place ... that respect the rule of law, has its own constitution, fights corruption, is able to spend money properly when it gets it from foreign sources so there is hope for the Palestinian people."
For his part, the king said Arab leaders will offer "the olive branch toward Israel" at a summit in Egypt next week. It was unclear whether Arafat would attend. "I hope that with our discussions today we can somehow try and articulate a way to bring Palestinians and Israelis to peace and security," he said.
At a State Department session with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday's bombing "puts at risk the possibility of going forward" on the peace campaign.
But he predicted the process would get back on track "because no matter how many military operations one conducts or how many suicide bombs are delivered, at the end of the day, we have to find a political solution." He said CIA director George Tenet probably will go to the region next week to help Palestinians build an antiterrorism security force.
The Bush administration is also taking heightened interest in a plan to bring about Palestinian political reform by creating a new post of prime minister, which would operate independently of Arafat in running foreign, security and economic affairs, according to the Washington Post.
So far, U.S. officials have taken few steps to promote a new form of government, saying publicly that Palestinian reform must come from within. "Our view, first of all, fundamentally, it is up to the Palestinian people," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "But second of all, he (Arafat) is leader of the Palestinian Authority."
Boucher said the administration's interest in reforming the Palestinian Authority has become increasingly serious as officials are confronted with the task of rebuilding ministries and security forces battered by Israel's recent West Bank offensive.
"In terms of the hardships that Palestinians have suffered, you want to make sure that the economic and humanitarian assistance is going to the people who need it," Boucher said. "In terms of the destruction of Palestinian institutions, you want to make sure that as they are rebuilt, that they operate on the basis that you would expect of anybody, and that's transparency, accountability, openness."
-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.