- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Washington's key European allies and the United Nations' chief rejected President Bush's call for a "new and different" Palestinian leadership yesterday, but they welcomed his proposal for creating a Palestinian state.
Senior U.S. officials, in remarks that appeared to soften Mr. Bush's unusually tough language on the leader, Yasser Arafat, said he still has a role to play in the months leading to elections expected to take place early next year.
At the same time, the White House said, Mr. Bush is "very worried" about Israel's survival if a Palestinian state doesn't emerge.
The president faced a barrage of negative reaction to his conditioning Palestinian statehood on Mr. Arafat's removal,
"We will not demand that Arafat or any other leader in the region is removed," said Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who takes over the presidency of the European Union on Monday.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said forcing a change in the Palestinian top command could backfire.
"You could find yourself in a situation that the radicals are the ones that get elected, and it would be the result of a democratic process, and we have to accept that," he said.
In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told Parliament that if Mr. Arafat "were re-elected by the Palestinian Authority, we would deal with him."
The Bush administration tried to dispel fears that it wanted the top Palestinian leader left out of dealings with the Palestinians.
The State Department said the United States recognizes Mr. Arafat as the legitimate leader and expects him to lead a reform process but step aside before the election or, as one senior official put it, "We would hope that he would work himself out of a job."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who requested appearances on all five television networks and two radio stations yesterday, said Washington "will remain in touch" with the current leadership and will accept the choice of the Palestinian people.
"We will see what they decide they want through these elections, and the United States will respect whatever they say as a people when these elections are held," he said on National Public Radio.
Asked what would happen if Mr. Arafat is re-elected, Mr. Powell said: "We'll just have to see how that plays out. We will deal with the circumstances as we find them."
The secretary's spokesman, Richard Boucher, told reporters that he could not rule out direct contacts between the United States and Mr. Arafat.
"He is currently in a leadership position. We continue to look to him to take responsibility, to exercise authority and to exercise leadership," Mr. Boucher said. "The Palestinian leadership needs to move forward on these issues of creating new institutions and leadership that can uphold the new state."
In his speech Monday, Mr. Bush said the Palestinians had to choose a new leadership "not compromised by terror" before they can have an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Although he did not mention Mr. Arafat or any other Palestinians by name, he said the Palestinian Authority had "trafficked with terrorists."
"The president believes his speech represents the best long-term hope for Israel," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters traveling with Mr. Bush yesterday. "He is very worried about the future viability of Israel unless a Palestinian state is created."
Mr. Fleischer also said the president "is not asking the Palestinian Authority anything more or less than he has asked of any other nation in the world."
Mr. Arafat seemed to deny the obvious, telling reporters outside his Ramallah headquarters that it is incorrect to conclude that Mr. Bush's speech was critical of him. Asked whether Mr. Bush's call for a change in leadership referred to him, Mr. Arafat said, "Definitely not."
Russia also said Mr. Bush had not made any "concrete or direct mention" of Mr. Arafat. But on Monday, President Vladimir Putin warned that sidelining the Palestinian leader would be "dangerous and a mistake."
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who met with Mr. Arafat yesterday, said it was "up to the Palestinians themselves to choose their leaders."
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer echoed his French colleague, saying that "the Palestinian people alone must decide on its legitimate leadership."
Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, said the European Union was ready to help organize elections that would give the Palestinians an "opportunity to choose their leaders."
"President Arafat has already set a date for elections," Mr. Solana told reporters. "The elected leaders are the elected leaders, and we will continue to deal with them."
The European Union played a leading role in funding and monitoring the 1996 Palestinian vote in which Mr. Arafat was elected.
Mr. Arafat has called the next election for January.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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