- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2001

Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon's top foreign-policy team told Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday that Israel will defend itself against terror, but is ready for peace with the Palestinians.

The meetings came as President Bush condemned a bus attack that killed eight Israelis near Tel Aviv, casting a cloud over the Washington visit by Zalman Shoval and Moshe Arens, former ambassadors to Washington, and Dore Gold, former ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. Shoval was upbeat about the prospects of good relations between the conservative Sharon government and the conservative Bush administration.

"The bilateral relationship couldn't be better," he said. "We see many, many things eye to eye."

Mr. Shoval and Mr. Arens worked with the Cheney-Powell team in the previous Bush administration, when there was close Israeli-U.S. cooperation during the Persian Gulf war.

However, Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi, on a visit to Washington this week, called Mr. Sharon a war criminal, blamed the Clinton administration for being pro-Israel, and said she hoped for better relations with the Bush team.

"We have certain signs that this new administration is willing to look into this, and we are willing to engage with a new strategic approach, a new dialogue," she said.

Mr. Sharon's representatives told the U.S. officials yesterday he will insist on an end to violence before talking peace. And he will talk only about another interim or partial agreement not the permanent, broad agreement once foreseen under the Oslo accords, said the Israeli delegates.

They spoke outside the State Department after meeting with Mr. Powell.

"We started by discussing the very terrible terrorist incident that took place in Israel yesterday," Mr. Arens told reporters.

The bus attack came a few hours after Israelis killed a Palestinian security official, whom Israel accused of gun running, drug smuggling and organizing sniper attacks on Israelis.

The Israelis said the United States did not believe the killing of the security official was justification for the bus attack.

"It was made very clear in this conversation that there could not be moral equivalency between fighting terrorism and violence, and terrorist instigation by the Palestinian side," Mr. Shoval said.

Mr. Shoval called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to rein in the violence, "which he is capable of doing." And he warned of a new, tougher response to terrorism.

"Once the new Sharon government is installed, it will certainly choose its ways and means to be as effective as possible in order to combat violence and defend and protect the people of Israel," he said.

Mr. Shoval repeated offers by Mr. Sharon to discuss interim agreements that "will give the Palestinians a lot more than what they have today, provided they stop violence."

But Mr. Shoval said "the right of return is a no-no as far as Israel is concerned," rejecting demands that up to 4 million Palestinian refugees be allowed to enter Israel.

The killing of the Palestinian security official in a helicopter missile assault was a delicate one that U.S. officials seemed reluctant to discuss yesterday. That, and other killings of Palestinians accused by Israel of organizing attacks on Israelis, have been called "assassinations" by some critics.

The European Union called on Israel yesterday to halt the killings, which it called "executions."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday, "We oppose the targeted killings."

He also said the Palestinians "should do everything they can to stop the violence" and "arrest those suspected of terrorist attacks and bring them to justice through a judicial process."

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