- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2002

President Bush, who has long equated terrorists with those who harbor them, yesterday carved out an exception for Yasser Arafat because the Palestinian leader "has agreed to a peace process."
Asked what is preventing him from labeling Mr. Arafat a terrorist, the president replied that the Palestinian leader has agreed to peace plans proposed by CIA Director George Tenet and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, Maine Democrat.
"Well, Chairman Arafat has agreed to a peace process," Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office. "He's agreed to the Tenet plan. He's agreed to the Mitchell plan.
"He has negotiated with parties as to how to achieve peace," Mr. Bush added. "And, of course, our hope is that he accepts the Tenet plan."
The president's comments, which came less than 90 minutes before another car bomb exploded in Jerusalem, were echoed by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. The president's spokesman explained that unlike Mr. Arafat, the Taliban was equated with the al Qaeda terrorists it harbored because it would not negotiate peace.
"The president has made clear around the world, given the wake of the attack against the United States, as he said in reference to the Taliban harboring al Qaeda: Those who harbor terrorists will be treated like terrorists," Mr. Fleischer said. "The situation in the Middle East is indeed different.
"What makes it different is the fact that you have parties who themselves have agreed together to the Tenet accords, to the Mitchell accords, which all follows the Oslo peace process," he said. "That was not, is not, the case with al Qaeda."
Thus, any comparison between the Taliban and Mr. Arafat is "not a comparison that the president accepts," Mr. Fleischer added.
Meanwhile, Democrats on Capitol Hill stepped up pressure on Mr. Bush to become more engaged in the peace process. The president has never met with Mr. Arafat and has spoken to him by telephone only once.
"I urge the Bush administration to take a more active role in resolving this conflict before it spirals completely out of control and affects the stability and peace of the entire Middle East," said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat.
The criticism by Mr. Moran, a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, came one day after Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, called for "much bolder moves by the Bush administration to enter the diplomatic fray there between the Israelis and Palestinians."
Former President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, accused the Bush administration of "strategic incoherence." Former President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel Berger, said the Bush administration's Middle East policy has been "exceptionally poor."
Mr. Clinton himself, in an interview published yesterday by Newsweek, said it was "laughable" for Mr. Fleischer to say he worsened the violence by trying to "shoot the moon" in all-or-nothing peace talks at Camp David in 2000. Mr. Clinton also joked that the president should send him and Mr. Mitchell on a peace mission to the Middle East, "and when it fails, he can blame us."
Mr. Bush said yesterday Democrats are ignoring the fact that he spent much of the weekend at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, trying to stop the bloodshed.
"You know, they must have not been with me in Crawford when I was on the phone all morning long talking to world leaders," the president said.
He added that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is deeply engaged and peace envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni remains in the Middle East to continue peace efforts.
"We've just come from a National Security Council meeting where Colin Powell was recounting his phone conversations," Mr. Bush said. "We've got General Zinni in the region, we've got a Tenet plan, a Mitchell plan, a road map to what will be a peaceful resolution to this issue."
The president made clear he does not believe Mr. Arafat a virtual prisoner of Israeli soldiers in his bombed-out headquarters is doing enough to stop suicide bombers, who are attacking Israelis at least once a day.
"I'd like to see Chairman Arafat denounce the terrorist activities that are taking place, the constant attacks," Mr. Bush said. "There's a lot of innocent people who hurt in the region because of the senseless violence and senseless murder."
Mr. Fleischer dismissed suggestions that Mr. Arafat, whose phone lines have been cut, is powerless to dissuade suicide bombers. He pointed out that the Palestinian leader has blitzed the airwaves with interviews via cell phone.
"Chairman Arafat does have the ability to communicate," he said. "He has demonstrated that repeatedly on many of your shows over the last several days.
"He has the ability to talk to his people in the field, he has the ability to reach out and tell people that they need to stop the violence," Mr. Fleischer added. "So even armed with a cell phone, the president believes that Chairman Arafat has the power and the responsibility and the authority to reduce the violence."
Mr. Bush pointed out that until the recent spate of suicide bombings, progress had been made by Gen. Zinni and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, who offered his own peace plan.
"I was very heartened a couple of weeks ago by the Saudi Arabia crown prince when he talked about the need for the Arab world to recognize Israel's right to exist," the president said. "It was a positive development.
"There were some positive things that were taking place in the region until the terrorist suicide bombers started killing innocent people," he added.
Dave Boyer contributed to this report.


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