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Abbas in Washington, to Visit White House (REUTERS) By Jonathan Wright WASHINGTON 07/25/03 09:47 AM ET) Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=3160295
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas declared on Friday hours before a White House meeting with President Bush that he was on a mission for peace, but said Israel had to reciprocate.
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The Palestinian leader is on his first visit to the United States since taking office in April and starting to carry out the peace plan known as the "road map," which foresees an independent Palestinian state by 2005 living in peace with Israel.
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Since Bush declared Palestinian President Yasser Arafat persona non grata last year, he has pinned his hopes for plans for Middle East peace on Abbas, better known as Abu Mazen.
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Abu Mazen said in an interview with NBC´s "Today" show that he had come to Washington to present a "policy of peace."
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"But if I don´t receive in exchange from the Israeli side, it means my policy is failed and ... peace will be in danger," according to an English translation of his words broadcast on NBC.
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Hours before the White House meeting was to take place on Friday, an Israeli soldier killed a five-year-old Palestinian boy in a checkpoint incident the army said was an accident.
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The shooting seemed unlikely to overshadow the talks in Washington or provoke militants to end a three-month truce declared on June 29, but it could add a sense of urgency to Abu Mazen´s call for the United States to put pressure on Israel to take more steps mandated by the U.S.-brokered "road map."
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The plan has run into disputes over which side should do what next. Abu Mazen wants Israel to release thousands of Palestinian prisoners, while Israel wants Abu Mazen to close down Palestinian militant groups.
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Abu Mazen said on NBC Israel needed to freeze construction at Jewish settlements and stop work on a security fence in the West Bank, as well as release the prisoners.
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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will give his point of view when he sees Bush in Washington next Tuesday.
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Abu Mazen said on Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations that militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad understood his commitment to ensure that the Palestinian government is the only armed force in Palestinian areas.
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But he is reluctant to meet Israeli and U.S. demands that he disarm the militants so they never attack Israelis again.
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The United States sympathizes with Abu Mazen on Jewish settlements and the security fence.
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"There´s not a lot of enthusiasm in this town for a fence ... This is a real issue, or it has the makings of becoming a real issue (between Israel and the United States), were the fence to follow the route that many people say it will," said a senior U.S. official, who asked not to be named.
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So far the United States has concentrated on persuading Israel to dismantle small settler outposts in the West Bank but another official said this could change.
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"We are also getting to the point of taking up the issue of settlements per se and growth," the official said.
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Israel has argued that settlements should be allowed to expand to take account of demographic growth but the text of the road map says all settlement activity should cease. (© Reuters 2003 07/25/03)
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