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U.S. Delay on Proposal for Mideast Irks Allies (NY TIMES) By STEVEN R. WEISMAN WASHINGTON 12/13/02)Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/13/international/middleeast/13DIPL.html NEW YORK TIMES NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 official said.

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 military action.

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 for women.

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 areas.

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 Minister Sharon.

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 year.

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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