- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2003

PARIS — America’s European allies yesterday rejected a call from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to sever ties with Yasser Arafat, the beleaguered Palestinian leader, even as U.S. officials accused him of “undercutting” his new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who met with Mr. Powell during the annual meeting of top diplomats from the Group of Eight — the seven most industrialized countries and Russia — said he would visit Mr. Arafat when he goes to the Middle East early next week.

“Believe me, my message will be a strong message,” Mr. de Villepin said at a press conference after the meeting in Paris, noting that it is the European Union’s policy to “meet and speak to everyone” involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We need to take steps against terrorism, against any violence — it is the right moment to move.”

A senior U.S. official later told reporters on Mr. Powell’s plane that the “strong message” of the French minister would contain a push for Mr. Arafat to provide more support to Mr. Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, and his new post.

“We have seen evidence that [Mr. Arafat] is undercutting [Mr. Abbas],” the official said. “It’s time for him to realize that he has to use his influence with the Palestinian people to support Mr. Abbas.”

The official noted that Mr. Abbas’ press conference with Mr. Powell in the West Bank town of Jericho earlier this month was not broadcast on Palestinian television, which is controlled by Mr. Arafat.

Mr. Powell said in Paris yesterday that his European colleagues come from sovereign nations with the right to define their own policies, but he reiterated the Bush administration’s frustration with Mr. Arafat.

“We don’t believe that he has lived up to the expectations of the Israeli people,” he said. The implication was that Mr. Arafat would lead the Palestinians to a peaceful resolution of the conflict with Israel.

“We will be investing our time and energy with Prime Minister Abbas.”

The EU’s foreign and defense policy chief, Javier Solana, who also participated in yesterday’s meeting, met with Mr. Arafat shortly after Mr. Powell’s visit to the region.

The venue of the secretary’s meeting with Mr. Abbas was changed from Ramallah, which houses Mr. Arafat’s headquarters, to Jericho, in a symbolic move intended to show Washington’s determination to marginalize the longtime Palestinian leader.

Mr. de Villepin is scheduled to arrive in Israel tomorrow, when he will meet with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. He is expected to visit Mr. Arafat Monday, a spokeswoman said in Paris.

Mr. Shalom said yesterday that Mr. Arafat should be expelled from the Palestinian territories, “especially since he is now trying to prevent Abu Mazen from putting an end to terrorism.”

The French diplomat’s trip is part of an effort by the so-called Quartet for Middle East peace, which includes the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, to promote its new blueprint for restarting the peace process known as the “road map.” The plan was drafted in December, but it was not released by the United States until Mr. Abbas and his Cabinet took office late last month.

The Palestinians, as well as most Arab leaders in the region, endorsed the road map soon after its publication despite minor reservations. It took Israel, however, weeks to accept the document, which it did yesterday after securing a commitment from the Bush administration that it would “fully and seriously” address Israel’s concerns.

Those concerns have to do with Jewish settlements that must be dismantled under the road map. Israel also wants the Palestinians to stop suicide attacks on Israeli civilians before the Jewish state takes any steps.

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