- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

President Bush said yesterday that the joint Middle East mission of two senior U.S. officials will focus on security and new institutions based on democratic principles that would be the underpinnings of a Palestinian state.

Mr. Bush also voiced concern that hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. and other foreign aid to help the Palestinian people recover from the effects of recent Israeli military operations in the West Bank might be going into the wrong hands.

But he welcomed internal discussions among the Palestinians about reforms in the Palestinian Authority, as well as talk of a new finance minister with "international standing" who could introduce greater financial controls.

"One of the things that worries us is spending international aid on an authority that might not keep good books that the money might not actually go to help the Palestinian people, but might end up in somebody's pocket," Mr. Bush told reporters after a Cabinet meeting at the White House.

William Burns, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, met yesterday with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Wednesday.

CIA Director George J. Tenet is to leave for the region as early as today, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said at a news briefing. He noted that both Mr. Tenet and Mr. Burns would be back in Washington before Mr. Mubarak's arrival here at the end of next week.

Mr. Burns is scheduled to meet today with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. He also will visit Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon. He is expected to urge Syrian and Lebanese leaders to curb attacks on Israel by the Hezbollah, which the State Department has designated as a terrorist organization.

Mr. Burns' visit to Israel coincided with mediation efforts by Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

Mr. Burns said after meeting with Mr. Arafat that he had presented the Bush administration's three-step plan for ending the deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue: effective security, a serious political process and strong Palestinian institutions.

Reform of the Palestinian Authority has become a key issue for both Israel and the United States, and Washington has noted with undisguised satisfaction that the subject has been taken up by what it calls the "Palestinian community."

"We are making progress on a strategy that would put the underpinnings of a Palestinian state in place," Mr. Bush said. "It's going to take awhile, we recognize that. But we are going to continue to work the issue very hard."

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