- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

CALGARY, Alberta President Bush said the United States will not accept Yasser Arafat as Palestinian leader even if he wins the January elections, for which he announced his candidacy yesterday.

"I meant what I said, that there needs to be change. If people are interested in peace, something else has got to happen," Mr. Bush said yesterday after a meeting at the summit of the Group of Eight in Canada. "The status quo is simply unacceptable, and it should be unacceptable to them."

After his call Monday for Palestinians to oust Mr. Arafat a leader he indirectly said is "compromised by terror" Mr. Bush said "the free world" will decide whether Palestinians are implementing reforms the United States deems necessary before talk can begin about establishing an independent Palestinian state.

But the United States will make its own determination as well, and Mr. Bush threatened that his administration would cut off millions in U.S. aid if Palestinians do not adopt the sweeping political and security reforms he has demanded.

"Listen, I can assure you we won't be putting money into a society which is not transparent and [is] corrupt. And I suspect other countries won't either," Mr. Bush said after a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The United States gives about $100 million to nongovernmental organizations that oversee infrastructure needs for Palestinians, the White House said. No federal money goes directly to the Palestinian Authority, it said.

If Palestinians elect Mr. Arafat, that will signal that they are not committed to peace, said a senior administration official.

"We're not going to try to interfere in the election process but there are consequences," the official said. "Something needs to change in the Middle East, or we're not going to get anywhere."

The official rejected the notion that the re-election of Mr. Arafat would violate Mr. Bush's preconditions for a provisional Palestinian state.

"We are not going to focus on Arafat here. We're just not going to do it. He wasn't mentioned in the speech; that's for a reason. We're not going to focus on it. There is a leadership there. It is larger than Arafat, as well," the official said.

Later in the day, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president believes history already has left Mr. Arafat behind.

"The president has given up hope that Yasser Arafat can be the one to implement reform. If it was Yasser Arafat, it would have been done a long time ago," the spokesman said.

Several leaders of the eight nations gathered here have been cool to Mr. Bush's call for the ouster of Mr. Arafat. Most, including Mr. Blair, have straddled the fence.

"It's for the Palestinians to elect the people that they choose to elect," the prime minister said. "But if we're going to make progress, we need people that we can negotiate with, who are serious about negotiating around the issues of security and political reform necessary for the peace process to work."

Mr. Blair said Palestinian leadership has not convinced Israel that it is committed to peace. "For Israel to be confident, it's got to have a negotiating partner that is serious about tackling terrorism."

Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham also rejected Mr. Bush's call to oust Mr. Arafat, but his prime minister was noncommittal.

"We believe that the Palestinian people should choose their own representative," Mr. Graham said.

But Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said, "I don't have a specific point of view on that. It might be a good thing, I don't want to comment on that. I just say that we need a quick election there and to produce the best leadership."

Mr. Bush, however, held firm to his stance that the Palestinians must pick leaders without ties to terrorism.

"If there's leadership compromised by terror, we won't be along the path to peace. I've got confidence in the Palestinians when they understand fully what we're saying, that they'll make right decisions as to how we get down the road for peace," he said.

"They've been pawns in the game of peace. They have no hope. Their economy is in shambles. They live in squalor. Their leadership has let them down."

Meanwhile, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat, at a press conference in the West Bank town of Jericho, appealed directly to the G-8 leaders to pressure Mr. Bush to back down from his demand to oust Mr. Arafat.

Mr. Erakat called on the leaders to "to try to convince President Bush that what Palestinians and Israelis need is action, not vision. Vision constitutes no policy."

He described a new reform plan and announced that presidential and legislative elections will be held sometime between Jan. 10 and Jan. 20.

He also urged the world to intervene and help the Palestinians mount their first elections since 1996 in the face of Israel's reoccupation of seven of the eight main Palestinian cities in the West Bank.

"We call upon the international community to help us in preparing for the elections. Elections cannot be carried out with tanks on every street, every corner of Palestinian towns and villages."

At the G-8 summit, about 60 miles west of Calgary in Kananaskis, thousands of Canadian police and soldiers surrounded the remote resort village, armed with laser-guided anti-aircraft missiles, tanks, helicopters and automatic weapons to guard against terrorist threats.

Intent on demonstrating a united G-8 front against terrorism, the participants the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia were following a joint "action plan" on ways to make air travel and cargo shipments more secure.

In Calgary, protesters staged a peaceful morning march through downtown Calgary, snarling traffic while police on bicycles moved with them to the beat of their chant, "Who owns the streets? We own the streets."

A shouting group of demonstrators faced off with police in a brief shoving match outside a McDonald's restaurant.

The leaders met throughout the day en masse and in smaller groups and by the end of the day announced that the newest member, Russia, would host their summit in 2006.

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