- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

President Bush yesterday denied the United States was stepping back from its role as chief peace broker in the Middle East and pledged with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to work together to end violence in the region.
"We're friends, we will remain friends, and we will work together to bring peace to the Middle East," said Mr. Bush after what he called "frank" discussions with the Egyptian leader. "We will work together to try to convince all parties involved to lay down their arms, for there to be less violence."
Mr. Bush denied reports that he wants his foreign policy team to take a back seat in the Middle East peace process, in contrast to the deep involvement of the Clinton administration.
"We're very engaged in the Middle East, and we'll remain so," Mr. Bush said. "As a matter of fact, the secretary of state has been involved on the telephone this morning with with [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon. I have had numerous telephone conversations with leaders in the Middle East."
However, Mr. Bush repeated his contention that outsiders cannot force the warring Palestinians and Israelis to make peace.
"I understand that we can facilitate peace [but] we can't force a peace," Mr. Bush said.
"The only lasting peace is one in which the parties involved come to the table. And the role for strong countries like ourselves and Egypt is to encourage, first, the violence to end, and secondly, for discussions to begin again."
Mr. Mubarak appeared to agree.
"We are not going to impose any solution on the parties; we are going to facilitate the situation so they can sit together, negotiate," he said.
Mr. Mubarak, expressing the widespread view of Egyptians and other Arabs, blamed Israel for excessive use of force.
Since fighting erupted in September, 457 persons have been killed, including 375 Palestinians, 63 Israeli Jews and 19 others.
He wants Israel to pull back its tanks and end the siege on Palestinian towns, his spokesman, Nabil Osman, said yesterday at the White House.
"The situation is deteriorating day by day especially because of Israeli use of excessive force," Mr. Osman said in an interview. "What can the Palestinians do? They are under siege, short of food and medicine, and let out their emotions and frustrations."
He said Mr. Mubarak wants Israel to carry out promises made at Sharm el-Sheik in October to pull back troops and tanks from Palestinian towns in return for a Palestinian call for an end to violence.
Mr. Bush wants the Palestinians to take the first step by calling openly for an end to violence so that negotiations can begin.
Mr. Mubarak, the first Arab leader to visit the White House since Mr. Bush was inaugurated in January, has made at least one trip to the White House every year since he took office in 1981.
"We are going to cooperate with the main players, the United States" to "lessen tension and resume negotiations," he said.
Egypt receives about $2 billion in economic assistance from the United States $1.3 billion in military assistance and $735 million in economic assistance. It is the recipient of the second-largest amount of U.S. aid after Israel, which receives $3 billion annually.

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