- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 8, 2002

President Bush, heading into meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak this weekend and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday, said yesterday that he would present a new plan on how to "move forward" in the Middle East as early as next week.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, appealed to Mr. Mubarak to lobby Mr. Bush on convening an international peace conference, tentatively scheduled for this summer, as soon as possible.
Senior U.S. officials said yesterday that Washington is still gathering ideas from different parties. In the past several days, the Bush administration has been feverishly drawing up various options, including offering a timetable for peace talks and solutions to some political issues.
"After my meetings with President Mubarak and Prime Minister Sharon, I'll talk to our country about how I think we should move forward," Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House.
He said he was optimistic that his Camp David talks with the Egyptian leader, a key player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as his meeting with Mr. Sharon, will be fruitful.
"Progress is being made," he said. "The Arab world now understands they need to be involved in pushing for peace and fighting against the terrorist actions that make it very difficult to achieve a peace."
Mr. Mubarak had a 50-minute meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday morning, but the only statement Mr. Powell made to reporters on his way out of Blair House was, "We discussed the Middle East situation."
Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, described the meeting as "warm, productive" and "an exchange of information and views on our extensive bilateral relationship."
Mr. Mubarak, however, took to the airwaves, arguing that Mr. Arafat should not be held responsible for suicide bombings by militants against Israeli civilians.
"He has no control," the president said of the Palestinian leader in a CNN interview. "He has no police, no intelligence. How do you ask him to control that?"
An Israeli attack on Mr. Arafat's Ramallah compound on Thursday struck within 5 feet of his bed, but the State Department said Israeli authorities had promised he would not be hurt. The six-hour, pre-dawn raid was in response to a suicide attack on a bus that killed 17 Israelis the day before.
Yesterday, as Israeli troops rolled into the West Bank towns of Jenin, Bethlehem and Tulkarm, where three persons were arrested, Mr. Arafat said the United States and the international community "must act very fast to rescue the peace."
"I hope President Mubarak will discuss with President Bush how to immediately decide on a plan for an international peace conference," he told reporters after attending weekly prayers at a mosque in Ramallah.
The Israeli army, meanwhile, said it seized a woman suspected of planning a suicide bombing during the raids in Tulkarm yesterday.
Mr. Bush maintained his tough line toward Mr. Arafat yesterday, saying: "I still am disappointed in Mr. Arafat's leadership. He needs to cut off terrorist activities."
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer had suggested in the strongest language yet that it might be time for the administration to begin looking to a younger generation of future Palestinian leaders.
"In the president's eyes, Yasser Arafat has never played a role of someone who could be trusted or who was effective," Mr. Fleischer told reporters. "
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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