U.S. Delay on Proposal for Mideast Irks Allies (NY TIMES) By STEVEN R. WEISMAN WASHINGTON 12/13/02)
NEW YORK TIMES
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 — The Bush administration, deepening a rift with
its allies on Middle East policy, has rebuffed appeals from President
Jacques Chirac and other Europeans to adopt a plan next week
establishing a Palestinian state in three years, administration
officials said today.
European officials said they had hoped, and in some cases expected,
that the United States would be willing to publish and adopt a
document on creating a Palestinian state when diplomats from Europe,
Russia and the United Nations meet on Dec. 20 in Washington.
Now, however, the administration says the plan, which is being called
a road map, is not ready for adoption. Some administration officials
say the delay results partly from heated Israeli objections. Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon has criticized the proposal and asked that
drafting be stopped until after Israel´s elections in late January.
European officials are expressing mounting frustration over what they
assert is a lack of appreciation by President Bush that there needs
to be more progress on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, especially if
there is a war in Iraq.
President Chirac, in a telephone conversation this week, appealed
personally to Mr. Bush to act on the proposal next week, a French
Some Europeans who were due in Washington for the meeting on the
Middle East were said by European officials to have been so upset
about the delays in the drafting of the document map that they
threatened not to attend.
An official said the meeting was firmed up only today, with word that
President Bush would meet with the group.
Administration officials assert that, contrary to the statements of
European and Arab allies, they are highly concerned about rising
perceptions that when it comes to the Middle East, the United States
seems only to be offering talk of war and threats of pre-emptive
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell today introduced what he called a
Middle East Partnership Initiative asking for a new effort to spread
democracy and political reforms in the Middle East, including a
campaign for more rights for women.
However, Secretary Powell said the first part of the initiative
contemplated adding only $29 million, which was approved by Congress
last July, to the $1 billion that goes for foreign aid to Arab
countries. He said that "significant additional funding" would be
sought next year.
"The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative is a bridge between the
United States and the Middle East," the secretary said. He explained
that its "three pillars" would be education, business and private
sector reform and political reform that would include improved rights
At present, most of the $1 billion in foreign aid for the Arab world
goes to a handful of countries, particularly Egypt, Jordan and the
Palestinian Authority. Many experts say that if there was a war in
Iraq, and some kind of an agreement between Israel and Palestinians,
the United States would spend far more than $10 billion to
reconstruct the region.
State Department officials said the money in the new initiative would
go to countries like Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries
that are so rich they do not quality for foreign aid, but are
considered to need social and political reforms.
The United States aims to broaden the agenda in the Middle East
beyond fighting terrorism, a senior official said.
Work on the proposal for the Israel-Palestinian conflict is also seen
in the administration as crucial to reassuring the Arab world that
the United States has a positive vision beyond going to war to
protect American interests.
The proposal envisions a Palestinian state and an end to what it
calls Israeli "occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza.
In the words of one of its authors, William J. Burns, an assistant
secretary of state, its first phase calls for a "maximum effort" by
the Palestinians to stop terror, along with Israeli actions
to "restore a sense of hope and dignity" for the Palestinians. For
Israel, these would include stopping "all Israeli settlement
activity" in the West Bank and withdrawal of forces from Palestinian
Israel and its supporters see the plan as insufficiently clear on
whether Yasir Arafat would be removed as a Palestinian leader, as
President Bush demanded last summer. Israel also dislikes the
participation of the Europeans, Russians and the United Nations in
the drafting process.
Administration officials acknowledge, however, that the participation
of the Europeans and others in the drafting has been positive, in
part because of their desire for progress on the Middle East to occur
in conjunction with war plans on Iraq.
Drafts of the proposal have circulated for months, overseen by the
four parties working on it: the Americans, Russians, Europeans and
the United Nations. Israeli and Palestinian officials and Arab
countries have offered critiques.
But as weeks have gone by without the plan being published or
formally adopted, Europeans have expressed more and more dismay. A
diplomat involved in the discussions said today that there was
renewed talk of the Europeans threatening to break away and "go it
alone" with a Middle East peace plan.
The widespread perception in Europe, this diplomat said, is that the
Bush administration is too politically beholden to Israel´s
supporters in the United States to do anything that would upset Prime
Administration officials deny this assertion, noting that Mr. Bush
has repeatedly called on Mr. Sharon´s government to exercise care in
retaliating against Palestinians after the suicide bombings of this
Some officials say that the administration would most likely make a
renewed and concerted push on a Palestinian-Israeli negotiation next
year, after the Israeli elections — and after a war in Iraq. Many say
it is impractical for Europeans to expect much progress before then.
(Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company 12/13/02)
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