- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

LONDON A rift has opened between London and Washington regarding demands by Prime Minister Tony Blair for the Bush administration to revive Middle East peace talks before an attack on Iraq.
The Sunday Telegraph has learned that Mr. Blair is privately urging President Bush to call Arab-Israeli peace talks before any military action against Iraq, but the White House is resisting.
"The Washington argument is: You can deal with Iraq in a separate box. That is not the London position," said a senior Foreign Ministry official. "It doesn't mean you cannot do anything until there is a settlement in the Middle East, but you have got to make progress.
"We want the Americans to say they are going to fix it in the Middle East. They are capable of doing it, even with [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, but they are not doing so."
Mr. Bush is reluctant to deal with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, having called for him to be removed from office. The U.S. public was outraged last week by the terrorist bombing at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, in which five Americans were killed.
The prime minister's office believes, however, that the talks are vital to placate moderate Arab opinion in the buildup of military and diplomatic pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The diplomatic dispute will fuel objections by some members of Mr. Blair's Labor party to early military action.
It also could raise Iraqi hopes of creating splits between the United States and its allies after the mixed reaction that followed Saddam's offer last week of talks on the readmission of arms inspectors. That was met with skepticism by London and Washington but welcomed by France and Russia.
Mr. Blair's anxieties about the Middle East may have led to remarks by King Abdullah II of Jordan last week that the prime minister had "tremendous concerns" about the idea of attacking Iraq.
David Manning, the prime minister's Middle East expert, is engaged in intense diplomatic talks with the White House while Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush are on holiday.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is expected to meet Palestinian representatives this week.


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