- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

CRAWFORD, Texas President Bush yesterday told Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that his forces must withdraw immediately from cities it has occupied in the West Bank.
A defiant Mr. Sharon said the nine-day military offensive dubbed "Operation Defensive Wall" will end "quickly" but did not pledge to begin withdrawing his troops immediately.
In a 20-minute phone conversation described as "tense" by White House aides, Mr. Bush told the Israeli leader he wanted action, not words.
"He told the prime minister that Israel needs to make progress now, and that Israel needed to defuse the situation so diplomacy can work," said a Bush administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Also, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is set today to give the clearest signal yet that the United States and Britain are prepared to begin a war against Iraq, newspapers in Britain reported, according to Agence France-Presse.
In a keynote speech after talks with Mr. Bush at the president's ranch in Texas, Mr. Blair will go further than ever before in public by declaring that failure to take action against Iraq is "not an option."
"Leaving Iraq to develop weapons of mass destruction in flagrant breach of no less than nine United Nations Security Council resolutions, refusing to allow weapons inspectors back to do their work properly is not an option," Mr. Blair will warn, according to the London Sunday Telegraph.
Diplomatic efforts to restart peace negotiations will resume this week as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell departs today on a mission to Europe and the Middle East.
Palestinian leaders, however, say Israel is using the time before Mr. Powell's arrival in the region at the end of the week to unleash "massacres" of its people, and called for urgent help from world leaders to stop the onslaught.
In the phone call, Mr. Sharon told Mr. Bush that "Israel will do all it can to bring a quick end to Operation Defensive Wall," the Israeli Prime Minister's office said in a statement. "Sharon said he understands the president's concern to finish the operation quickly."
The Israeli leader also said in his statement that Israel is operating under difficult conditions in the West Bank towns and villages where "there are a great deal of weapons, explosives and armed terrorists."
The Israeli statement was issued just hours after Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair held a joint press conference near the president's Texas ranch. Mr. Bush demanded that Israeli forces "withdraw without delay."
The president also called on "the Arab world" to take a more active role in pressuring Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to order an immediate cease-fire and crack down on terrorist activity.
"We agree that Israel should halt incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas, and begin to withdraw without delay from those cities it has recently occupied," said Mr. Bush. "As Israel steps back, we expect the Arab world to step up and lead to lead against terror, to get into an immediate cease-fire."
Along with his firm directive to Mr. Arafat, Mr. Bush had a clear message for Mr. Sharon as well.
"I don't expect them to ignore I expect Israel to heed my advice," said Mr. Bush. But Mr. Sharon ignored the president's advice hours later.
Since Mr. Bush's first directive on Thursday for Israeli forces to withdraw, Israel's military has heightened its offensive. Yesterday, Israeli forces rounded up Palestinians and razed houses in the West Bank as Israeli jets and artillery hit targets across south Lebanon in retaliation for the most extensive guerrilla attacks on the Jewish state's armed forces since they withdrew from the area two years ago.
At least 50 Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers were killed yesterday in one of the most bloody days since Palestinian-Israeli violence erupted 18 months ago.
Coming on the heels of Vice President Richard B. Cheney's failed mission to the Middle East, Mr. Powell has no plans "at this moment" to meet with Mr. Arafat during his mission to the region, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday. Officials said that could change.
Despite the surge in violence, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair urged Mr. Sharon to comply with the president's demand that Israeli forces be withdrawn "without delay."
As he has since a weeklong blitz of Palestinian suicide bombers left scores of Israeli civilians dead, Mr. Bush renewed his criticism of Mr. Arafat, who has not called for his followers to end the violence in his native tongue.
"In order to earn my trust, somebody must keep their word. And Chairman Arafat has not kept his word. He said he would fight off terror. He hasn't. He needs to speak clearly, in Arabic, to the people of that region and condemn terrorist activities," said the president.
"At the very minimum, he ought to at least say something," Mr. Bush said. "Chairman Arafat has failed in his leadership and he has let the people down. He had opportunity after opportunity to be a leader and he hasn't led."
Mr. Bush has grown increasingly frustrated with Mr. Arafat and in recent days has begun to call on Arab leaders to compel the Palestinian leader to crack down on Islamic militants and suicide bombers. Mr. Powell has said that during his trip he will warn centrist Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II of Jordan that they will bear responsibility if Palestinian terrorism continues.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair also agreed the world would be a better place without Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but neither said an effort to oust him from power was imminent.
"The world would be better off with him. I can't imagine people not seeing the threat and not holding Saddam Hussein accountable for what he said he would do," Mr. Bush said, referring to Saddam's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
The president said that "all options are on the table" for dealing with Saddam.
Mr. Blair said that Britain supports efforts to oust Saddam.
"Any sensible person looking at the position of Saddam Hussein and asking the question, 'Would the region, the world and, not least, the ordinary Iraqi people, be better off without the regime of Saddam Hussein?' the only answer anyone could give to that question would be yes," he said.
At the press conference, Mr. Bush also refuted an Associated Press story Friday that said he had accused former President Bill Clinton of helping create conditions for violence in the Middle East by pushing for peace in the 2000 summit at Camp David that failed.
"Somebody told me there's a story floating around that somehow I am blaming the Clinton administration for what's going on in the Middle East right now. I appreciate what President Clinton tried to do. He tried to bring peace to the Middle East. I am going to try to bring peace to the Middle East," the president said.
In an interview with a British journalist, Mr. Bush said Thursday, "It wasn't all that long ago where a summit was called and nothing happened, and as a result we had significant intifada in the area." White House aides said the criticism was aimed at Mr. Arafat, not Mr. Clinton.

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