- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2001

The United States must resume an active role in Middle East diplomacy if rising violence is to be halted, the foreign minister of Turkey, Israel's major regional ally, said yesterday.

Ismael Cem spoke in Washington as tempers rose in the Middle East after Arab suicide bombers killed two Israeli teen-agers and Israel retaliated with a rocket attack on Palestinian police stations.

"I believe it will be wrong if the United States … waits for the problems to create their own solution," Mr. Cem told reporters at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Bush administration's decision to back away from the intense Middle East diplomacy of its predecessor has been complicated by three bomb attacks in which Israelis have been killed or injured in the past two days.

Israel was harshly criticized at a two-day Arab summit in Amman, Jordan, the first of its kind in a decade, and at the United Nations where the United States exercised its first veto since 1997 to block a resolution condemning Israeli retaliation for the Palestinian attacks.

"I understand the psychology of the Bush administration," said Mr. Cem, whose country shares joint military exercises with Israel.

"[President] Clinton, [Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright, U.S. envoy Dennis Ross and others worked very hard, but it was a disaster. The efforts gave nothing back. [President] Bush says he won't make the same mistake.

"But U.S. even-handed involvement is very important, and I don't see any actor who can replace it."

Mr. Bush spoke to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Tuesday night about the wave of bomb attacks.

Mr. Sharon told the president that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "has not stopped the violence, but has even increased it," according to a statement released by Mr. Sharon's office.

The statement said Mr. Sharon "clarified" his "fierce opposition to international intervention" of the sort proposed in the U.N. resolution blocked by American diplomats.

At a briefing in Washington yesterday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher criticized a speech at the Amman summit in which Syrian President Bashar Assad compared Zionism the movement for a Jewish homeland to the Nazi government of Hitler's Germany.

"I would say that our view of remarks about Zionism and Naziism and racism we find those things, you know, absolutely wrong and, as I said, totally unacceptable and inappropriate," Mr. Boucher said.

He urged Mr. Arafat to carry out a commitment he made at Sharm El-Sheik in October to publicly condemn violence by Palestinians.

"We've called on the Palestinian Authority, we call on them again, to do all they can to fight terrorism by pre-empting the attacks, to arrest those responsible and bring them to justice," Mr. Boucher said.

Arab leaders at the Amman summit yesterday criticized the veto of the U.N. resolution, which had called for international monitors to be deployed between the Israelis and Palestinians. They said the veto was "in total contradiction with the responsibility of the United States as a sponsor of the peace process."

Mr. Boucher rejected suggestions that the veto would aggravate relations between the United States and the Arab world.

"We have no apology for our relationship with Israel," he said. Any "protection mechanism" such as monitors had to arise from "agreements between the parties," which would not be possible as long as Israel opposes it.

The resolution urged Israel to turn over $50 million in taxes collected on behalf of the Palestinians and to halt "collective punishment" such as the closing of Palestinians towns, and was backed by Russia, China, Bangladesh, Colombia, Jamaica, Mali, Mauritius, Singapore and Tunisia. Britain, France, Norway and Ireland abstained. Ukraine passed.

Mr. Cem, who meets Mr. Powell tomorrow, warned that without prompt U.S. leadership the situation is at risk of spinning out of control and setting off "a surge of radicalism" in centrist Arab states.

"I'm pessimistic," he said. "If things go as they do, there will be more violence maybe within Israel proper and there will be problems for the neighbors and within the Arab states. The United States, to a limited extent, should continue an active presence in the peace process."

Mr. Cem questioned Mr. Sharon's insistence that the violence end before peace talks are resumed.

"It's difficult to expect an end to violence terrorism is a nasty phenomenon," the foreign minister said.

"You cannot contain it. Only a radical attitude change" can calm things down. Efforts to end violence and to restart talks should take place "simultaneously," he said.


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