- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

The Bush administration yesterday identified for the first time Palestinian leaders who could replace Yasser Arafat, as Arab foreign ministers met with President Bush at the White House to demand that the United States amend its peace proposal.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday named Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Faiad and Interior Minister Abdel-Razak al-Yehiyeh as Arafat replacements the United States could support.
"Those are two individuals that seem to be not only asserting authority and trying to work on the transformation, but seem to be acting with authority," Mr. Powell said in a radio interview.
"So those are two that perhaps might start to fill the role that I think is badly needed to be filled," he said.
Mr. Bush on June 24 announced a new U.S. policy based on replacing the Palestinian leadership, which he said was "compromised by terror," and making security for Israelis the priority in its diplomacy.
Neither the president nor any administration official had identified a suitable replacement for Mr. Arafat until yesterday.
Mr. Powell made it clear that the United States is prepared to move forward quickly."What we are anxious to do is to deal with other Palestinian leaders who can act with authority, with responsibility, with transparent action that we can see and who are empowered to act. If those individuals are empowered by the Palestinian community, we will work with them," he said.
"We are trying to identify those leaders who recognize that what they have been doing in the recent past has not moved them close to their vision of a Palestinian state."
Hours after Mr. Powell made his comments, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan met with Mr. Bush in the Oval Office. They were expected to deliver a plan for establishing a new Palestinian government - said to include Bush demands for a constitution and an elected legislature - that calls for an Israeli military withdrawal to positions it held before September 2000 in order for elections to be held.White House officials would not confirm the delivery of the new plan.
Mr. Bush has repeatedly supported Israel's right to defend itself, and after three attacks in two days - one by Palestinian gunmen and two by suicide bombers - killed 10 Israelis, the president said, "Peace cannot be built on a platform of violence against innocents."The president said the recent Palestinian attacks were a deliberate effort to thwart peace efforts.
"I'm beginning to think that every time we have a high-level meeting, something happens that's not coincidental," he told reporters. "I think the enemies of peace try to send signals, try to derail peace and try to discourage us."
The last deadly Palestinian attack before this week was June 20, as Arab leaders met in New York. The conflict in Israel over the past 21 months has left 1,447 Palestinians and 558 Israelis dead.
Mr. Bush vowed to continue his effort to establish a Palestinian state.
"One of the things I'm going to tell the leaders today is, we refuse to be discouraged," Mr. Bush said. "We're going to continue to work for peace, to push hard for peace."
The president's decision to release names of possible successors for Mr. Arafat continues the administration's new policy of looking past the Palestinian leader.
"Mr. Arafat would like the whole issue to be about him," Mr. Bush said in a press conference Wednesday. "That's the way it's been in the past. Except when you analyze his record, he has failed the Palestinian people."Arab leaders, however, disagree with the U.S. policy of replacing Mr. Arafat before peace negotiations resume.
"Violence is not the cause of the conflict - it is the result," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told reporters yesterday before meeting with Mr. Bush.
Mr. Maher also said the United States is wrong to isolate Mr. Arafat.
"Yasser Arafat is, in our opinion, the only Palestinian leader who has the authority to sign an agreement with the Israelis and have it implemented. In the present situation, there can be no substitute," he said.
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal agreed, saying, "It is up to the Palestinian people to choose their leaders and to elect their leaders."
A senior administration official said yesterday's White House meeting focused on security, reform of Palestinian institutions and humanitarian issues.
The efforts can take place on all three tracks "in parallel, if not completely synchronized," Mr. Powell told reporters outside his department's Foggy Bottom headquarters after meeting with the three foreign ministers.
Mr. Maher echoed the secretary's words."All tracks should start together. Security will not be achieved until the other tracks start moving," he said.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council yesterday called on all parties to the Middle East conflict to cooperate in working toward the goals set out by the Quartet, made up of top U.S., Russian, European Union and U.N. officials.
The Quartet on Wednesday urged nations to lend their support to democratic reform of Palestinian institutions and called on Israel to eventually withdraw from occupied territories - moves that should result in the creation of a Palestinian state.

Ben Barber contributed to this report.

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