- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

CRAWFORD, Texas As toddlers scurried across the White House South Lawn balancing colored eggs in wooden spoons for the annual Easter Egg Roll, President Bush convened a meeting in the Situation Room to set the United States' new course in the Middle East.
The president on Monday outlined for his national-security team the new strategy, which demanded Israeli and Palestinian leaders pledge to work toward peace, and called for the United States to re-engage in the region.
"He articulated how we can continue our fight against terrorism, recognize Israel's right to self-defense, but we need to push beyond," said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
After he outlined his vision, the official said, he departed, leaving the "principals" among them National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to put "the meat on the bones."
The next day, Mr. Bush decided he would send Mr. Powell to the region, although he was "not yet ready to pull the trigger." Tuesday, the principals, this time including senior Bush adviser Karen Hughes and chief speechwriter Michael Gersen, began drafting a major speech for the president to deliver.
Prior to that meeting, the administration had used a measured response to escalating violence in the region, even after Israel's Saturday strike against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah.
The president and his national-security team, which had preferred a hands-off policy in the Middle East, were forced into action after a March 27 massacre at the height of Jewish Passover that killed 26 Israelis.
The administration official yesterday painted a portrait of a resolute White House that worked through a series of options as violence in the Middle East spiraled out of control.
The official took issue with reports that the administration was slow to respond to the Israeli attack on the Arafat compound and finally acted Thursday when Mr. Bush announced he was dispatching Mr. Powell to the region in the face of relentless criticism.
Instead, the official asserted the White House's new emphasis on hands-on engagement occurred after the increased violence left Mr. Bush with one choice to declare, as he did Thursday, "Enough is enough."
But that Monday before the attack Mr. Bush was optimistic about Middle East talks during a stop in South Carolina. That ended with the suicide bombing. Shortly afterward, Miss Rice convened a meeting of the "principals committee" top national-security officials by telephone.
"They started immediately at that moment recognizing the damage done by the terrorist attack, the derailment of the peace process which, at that moment, had shown the most progress to date, and immediately the thought became of how to develop a more comprehensive approach to peace in the Middle East while recognizing Israel had a right to self-defense," the official said.
By Friday, March 29, the "principals" had begun to focus on how to move "beyond the violence to a broader initiative."
But last Saturday, Israel surrounded the Arafat compound with tanks, prompting the administration to begin looking for ways to pressure other Arab nations in the region to take greater roles in a call for peace.
On Tuesday with Vice President Richard B. Cheney on a secure teleconference line the Thursday speech was completed. Late that evening, Mr. Bush, working in his office in the residence, made four calls to Miss Rice suggesting changes to the speech.
"One specifically I can tell you about [was when] the president made the remarks about the need for the Israelis to treat Palestinians at the checkpoints with compassion, that was one of the things the president put into the remarks that night," the official said.
Mr. Bush also added the line: "I expect better leadership and I expect results."
The official said Mr. Bush's speech Thursday could not have come after the Passover massacre or the raid on the Arafat compound.
"Had the president given Thursday's speech Saturday, it likely would have been ignored. Giving it yesterday has now created a new dynamic in the Middle East that will test the ability of the parties to work for peace."

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