- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2003

SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt — President Bush yesterday prodded Arab leaders into repudiating terrorism in the Middle East and forcefully called on Israel to remove settlements in the disputed territories.

Under pressure from Mr. Bush, who said Arab countries bear as much responsibility as Israel for producing lasting peace in the region, Arab leaders at the summit here responded in a statement with a strong condemnation of terrorism “regardless of justifications or motives” and vowed “to work for a Middle East that is free of strife and violence, living in harmony, without the threat of terrorism or dangers of weapons of mass destruction.”

Mr. Bush, in the first of two Middle East meetings to push the “road map” for peace that culminates in 2005 with a Palestinian state, said Arab leaders must realize that an end to terror in the region is paramount to their future.

“It’s in their own self-interests to fight off terror. It’s in their own self-interests to enable a Palestinian state to emerge,” the president said after his 90-minute meeting with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in this resort town on the Red Sea.

“So this is an historic meeting. It’s the beginning of a long process and a tough process. So, no matter how difficult it is, you have my commitment that I will expend the energy and effort necessary to move the process forward,” Mr. Bush said.

Israel freed about 100 Palestinian prisoners yesterday in a goodwill gesture ahead of a Mideast peace summit with Mr. Bush today in Jordan, where the president will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

As Mr. Bush urged Arab leaders to assume their responsibility for peace, he also called on Israel to honor its commitment to dismantle Jewish settlements in territories claimed by the Palestinian Authority.

“Israel’s got responsibilities. Israel must deal with the settlements. Israel must make sure there’s a continuous territory that the Palestinians can call home,” he said.

The White House later said Mr. Bush meant to say “contiguous,” which in Middle East diplomatic language means eliminating Jewish settlements, whose continued existence would result in pockets of Palestinians within Israeli territory.

In his first hands-on meeting with Middle East leaders on the April 30 “road map” for peace, Mr. Bush sought to marginalize Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who was not invited to attend. The administration has said that Mr. Arafat has not cracked down on terrorist attacks. Instead, Mr. Abbas attended the meeting. Mr. Bush has repeatedly said Mr. Abbas is committed to ending the cycle of violence that has raged in the region for 50 years.

Looking directly at Mr. Abbas after their meeting, the president said: “You, sir, have got a responsibility, and you’ve assumed it. I want to work with you, as do the other leaders here.”

Mr. Bush said he is committed to securing an independent Palestinian state. “I’m the kind of person who when I say something, I mean it. I mean that the world needs to have a Palestinian state that is free and at peace.” He vowed that the administration will work “with all parties concerned to achieve that vision.”

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, traveling with Mr. Bush, said the United States will not allow Mr. Arafat to spoil the early stages of the road map, which requires significant concessions from both Israelis and Palestinians.

“For Mr. Arafat to serve as a spoiler I hope will be met by resistance from all the Arab leaders who are here today,” Mr. Powell said.

Yesterday’s summit gathered Mr. Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah II of Jordan and King Hamad of Bahrain, Arab leaders the United States considers to be its allies.

Mr. Mubarak, who was the host of yesterday’s meeting, read a statement on behalf of Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia outlining the group’s commitment on the Middle East.

“We will continue to fight the scourge of terrorism against humanity and reject the culture of extremism and violence in any form or shape — from whatever source or place, regardless of justifications or motives,” he said.

“We will use all the power of the law to prevent support reaching illegal organizations, including terrorist groups,” Mr. Mubarak said.

Although Mr. Bush and other foreign leaders often issue joint statements after meetings in which they set out their goals and areas of agreement, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the two sides decided to issue separate statements. The Arab leaders’ statement did not contain specific steps by which they plan to promote the peace plan.

The Arab leaders’ statement also did not include support for Mr. Abbas, which before the meeting the White House had said it would seek.

The Arab leaders did, however, set out in broad terms what must take place on both sides for peace to work and indirectly endorsed Mr. Abbas, who has pledged to battle terrorism.

“We support the determination of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its responsibilities to end violence and to restore law and order,” Mr. Mubarak said, looking at Mr. Abbas. “We will ensure that our assistance to the Palestinians goes solely to the Palestinian Authority, and we will continue to support efforts to improve the quality of life of the Palestinian people.”

On Israel, Mr. Mubarak said Tel Aviv “must fulfill its own responsibilities to rebuild trust and restore normal Palestinian life and carry out other obligations under the road map.”

The meeting took place in an unusual way, described by Mr. Fleischer as “old-fashioned statecraft.” As White House staff waited for Mr. Bush and the other leaders to enter a conference room for the discussion, the president went into another room to meet the Arab leaders. The five men then talked privately for 90 minutes, with only translators in the room.

In his statement after the meeting, Mr. Bush said that achieving peace in the Middle East “will require courage and moral vision from every side, from every leader.”

“If all sides fulfill their obligations, we can make steady progress on the road towards Palestinian statehood, a secure Israel, and a just and comprehensive peace. We seek true peace, not just a pause between more wars and intifadas, but a permanent reconciliation among the peoples of the Middle East,” he said.

“We must not allow a few people, a few killers, a few terrorists, to destroy the dreams and hopes of the many,” Mr. Bush said.

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