- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2001

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived in Washington at a time when the president and his Cabinet were more concerned with the crisis on Wall Street, the president's tax cut program and the Fed's fiscal policy.

Nevertheless, the visit was reasonably successful. Unquestionably, Mr. Sharon has erased his pariah status in Washington. He was greeted warmly by President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Council Chief Condoleezza Rice in short meetings where he clarified his policies related to U.S. international needs, regional security, and Israel's role in the peace process.

Mr. Sharon's ideas concerning missile defense were welcomed by Mr. Rumsfeld, who is a champion of this policy. However, the new administration is still in the process of developing its Middle East policy, partly because a number of senior positions in Defense and State are still subject to senatorial confirmation.

Prime Minister Sharon had three main messages to deliver to the administration:

(1) The need for a continued and enhanced strategic link between Israel and the United States, for which he received sympathetic support from the president and his advisers.

(2) An effort to diminish Yasser Arafat's role in Washington, which is already apparent in the administration's extending of invitations to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan, and not Mr. Arafat. (The message is that violence must cease before he receives the attention in Washington he received during the Clinton years).

(3) An unsuccessful attempt to sever the linkage between the Palestine and Iraq conflicts.

Secretary of State Powell is calling for a regional strategy in the Middle East, linking Iraq with the Israel-Palestine conflict. This strategy is not only unrealistic; it can lead to disaster. Mr. Powell believes that a "smart" sanctions policy separating Saddam Hussein from his suffering people will help the administration to regenerate an Arab coalition against Saddam. There is no chance in the world that the moribund coalition will be revived. The Arab countries of Syria and Saudi Arabia have re-established economic, political and diplomatic relationships with Saddam Hussein's regime. This reality is irreversible.

Lawrence Kaplan's investigative reporting article, "The Oil Industry's Man At the State Department" (New Republic, March 26 reveals the people who are moving ahead with a modified sanctions policy at the State Department. Richard Haass, a Powell ally from the first Bush administration, is director of policy planning with the rank of ambassador. He advocates doing away with Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's policy of vigilance with Saddam, including a severe sanctions policy with a mission of ending Saddam's power. Mr. Haass argues that carrots work better with Saddam than sticks.

Aide to Mr. Haass is Brookings fellow Meghan O'Sullivan. Miss O'Sullivan's policy paper advocating modification of the approach to Saddam impressed Mr. Powell.

The policy Miss O'Sullivan describes is championed by Mr. Haass and may become Mr. Powell's Iraq policy. Miss O'Sullivan writes, "Ten years after the Gulf war, Iraq constitutes a much-reduced challenge to U.S. interests in the Gulf region… . The ability of the United States to ensure that Iraq remains a negligible threat is fast eroding. Complicating the administration's efforts in Iraq is the deterioration of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has seriously reduced both American standing in the region and Arab willingness to support a punitive approach toward Saddam."

Miss O'Sullivan links the failure of the current sanctions policy toward Saddam with the Palestinians: "Widespread misperception of Western culpability for and indifference to the suffering of Iraqis further inflamed by recent Israeli use of force against Palestinians has transformed sanctions fatigue into sanctions outrage in the Arab world."

The new "smart" sanctions policy being promoted by Messrs. Powell and Haass is in direct opposition to President Bush's campaign statements promising to get Saddam out of power, which are strongly supported by Haass rivals Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. This rivalry goes back to the Bush I administration and, according to Mr. Kaplan, the Haass appointment has "thrown administration hawks into a funk… . Haass penned some of Bush pere's and James Baker's scathing remarks about Israel and helped devise the strategy of using loan guarantees to pressure the Jewish state." Oil companies, including Conoco and Arco, have funded Mr. Haass' sanction project at the Brookings Institution, "an undertaking that has produced, among other things, O'Sullivan's policy paper on Iraq."

Mr. Haass is taking advantage of the temporary policy vacuum that exists due to the senatorial confirmation process. He is running full-steam ahead before others take office to make his sanctions policy Mr. Powell's and, because of Mr. Powell's gravitas, eventually the president's. This, of course, is not the last word, in view of the fact that John Hannah has joined Vice President Dick Cheney's office to handle the Saddam portfolio. Two other Iraq hawks are awaiting confirmation: Zalmay Khalilzad and Doug Feith, former senior officials in the Reagan-Bush administrations.

According to some of Mr. Sharon's senior advisers, the government of Israel is aware of the seriousness of the linkage policy between Iraq and Palestine. They will have to work closely with administration Iraq hawks to dilute the dangerous and unrealistic Haass-O'Sullivan policy. This can only be accomplished when the administration is in full force, and with the help of Congress. Meanwhile, Mr. Sharon's first visit to Washington as prime minister was a public relations success.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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