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Palestinians´ Abbas Makes His D.C. Debut (AP) By DARLENE SUPERVILLE WASHINGTON 07/25/03 9:00 PM) Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A48065-2003Jul25.html
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WASHINGTON - With a firm handshake and embrace from President Bush, Mahmoud Abbas accomplished a first in the two-and-a-half-year Bush presidency.
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The much-anticipated get-together between the two men Friday included effusive praise from Bush for Abbas, a veteran advocate of peace who earlier this year became the first Palestinian prime minister.
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The complimentary remarks were in stark contrast to Bush´s shunning of Yasser Arafat, whom the president has described as an obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Abbas received an Oval Office meeting with Bush, followed by a shoulder-to-shoulder appearance in the sun- splashed White House Rose Garden.
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Dressed in his trademark business suit, Abbas also presented a visual contrast to Arafat, known worldwide for his military fatigues and keffiyeh headdress.
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Bush said the 68-year-old Abbas was a "good man" who was proving himself to be a leader of vision and courage.
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Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, spent several decades toiling behind the scenes as No. 2 to Arafat, who remains recognized by many Palestinians and governments as the movement´s leader.
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Bush distrusts and views Arafat as a failed leader tainted by corruption and terror, but has come to see Abbas as a moderate determined to end violence and help reform the Palestinian movement. He has refused to open the White House to Arafat, as predecessor Bill Clinton had on several occasions.
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"One reason I´m willing to stand with the prime minister is because I believe that he has that commitment," Bush said Friday. "He understands what I understand, that terrorists every time, every place will thwart the desires of those who want peace and freedom."
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Though Abbas has been an influential Palestinian figure for decades, younger, more radical Palestinians regard him as too willing to compromise with the Israelis - unlike Arafat. Abbas is also not as much of a people´s man as Arafat, but is well-respected among the diplomatic set.
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Abbas´ own relationship with Arafat has been stormy, often marked by long periods in which the two men have refused to speak to each other.
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Taking his turn Friday at the presidential lectern, Abbas thanked Bush for his efforts in pursuit of a peaceful Middle East and for a recent grant of $20 million in direct aid to the Palestinian Authority.
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Abbas spoke for about six minutes, slowly reading his statement in English, in which he is less comfortable speaking, with barely a pause. On Thursday night, he apologized to a group of foreign policy experts for reading from a prepared text, blaming it on poor English and recent eye surgery.
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Friday, when it came time for Bush and Abbas each to take questions from two reporters, Abbas answered in Arabic.
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Abbas arrived in Washington late Wednesday and was receiving the full red-carpet treatment.
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He met separately Thursday with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and senior members of Congress. He also was calling on Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday after the lunch with Bush.
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---Associated Press writer Lara Sukhtian contributed to this story. (© 2003 The Associated Press 07/25/03)
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