- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

President Bush last night said "my calendar's a little crowded" for "overt diplomacy in the Middle East," but insisted his administration remained deeply engaged in the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
"Obviously, the events of September 11 have prevented overt diplomacy in the Middle East," Mr. Bush said during a press conference. "Not prevented it, just made it my calendar's a little crowded."
The president said American allies have expressed concern in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks "that we would forgo any responsibility we have in the Middle East." He added: "We're spending a lot of time dealing with the Middle East."
Still, Mr. Bush made it clear the United States should not attempt to broker a political solution until violence on the ground comes to a halt, as specified in the Mitchell agreement. He also reiterated his support for a Palestinian state.
"If we ever get into the Mitchell process, where we can start discussing a political solution in the Middle East, then I believe there ought to be a Palestinian state, the boundaries of which will be negotiated by the parties so long as the Palestinian state recognizes the right of Israel to exist, and will treat Israel with respect, and will be peaceful," the president said.
Mr. Bush is still reluctant to invite Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to the White House.
"If I am convinced that a meeting with a particular party at this point in time will further the process, I will do so," the president said. "If it turns out to be an empty photo opportunity that creates expectations that will become dashed, I won't meet [Mr. Arafat]."
But he hastened to add: "I was pleased to see that Mr. Arafat is trying to control the radical elements within the Palestinian Authority. And I think the world ought to applaud him for that."
Mr. Bush also said for the first time last night that the United Nations should take the lead in rebuilding Afghanistan after the Taliban regime is toppled. He said the global body could stabilize the war-torn nation, help form a new governing coalition and eradicate the country's heroin trade.
He acknowledged that the failure to rebuild Afghanistan after the failed Soviet invasion of the 1980s led to the current crisis.
"I think we did learn a lesson," he said. "We should not just simply leave after a military objective has been achieved."
Mr. Bush also was careful not to favor one party over another in the future governance of Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance, which controls a small portion of the nation, is opposed by Pakistan, which is a pivotal ally in the U.S.-led war against terrorism. There are also tribes in the south of the country that might play a role in a future government, which could be headed by an exiled monarch.
"All interested parties have an opportunity to be a part of a new government," Mr. Bush said. "We shouldn't play favorites between one group or another within Afghanistan."
The president also issued his strongest denunciation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, saying he continues to press Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon the Cold War agreement in favor of a global missile-defense shield.
"I have told Mr. Putin that the ABM Treaty is outdated, antiquated and useless," he said. "And I hope that he will join us in a new strategic relationship."
He added that he would redouble his efforts during a summit with Mr. Putin in China later this month.
"I can't wait to visit with my friend Vladimir Putin in Shanghai to reiterate, once again, that the Cold War is over, it's done with, and that there are new threats that we face. And no better example of that new threat than the attack on America on September 11," Mr. Bush said.
The president also disputed reports that Saudi Arabia has been ambivalent about supporting the U.S.-led war against terrorism. The conservative Muslim nation has been slow to freeze the assets of terrorists and less than enthusiastic about granting America the use of its air bases for attacks against Afghanistan.
"Somebody asked me the other day: Was I pleased with the actions of Saudi Arabia?" he said. "I am. I appreciate the actions of that government."

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