- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

The Bush administration said yesterday that it will refrain from publicly criticizing an imprisoned Palestinian leader’s candidacy for president out of concern that such a move could boost his chances in the Jan. 9 election.

The administration also said that its consideration of U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority during the pre-election period will not be affected by the presence in the race of jailed candidate Marwan Barghouti or anyone else.

“Our position is not based on particular candidates,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters. “Our position is based on the need for the Palestinians to have an election that moves them forward.”

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met with visiting Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad yesterday to discuss U.S. assistance.

“We are considering giving assistance to the Palestinian Authority to help them with their current needs during the period of elections,” Mr. Boucher said.

A senior State Department official later explained why the administration has not been more critical of Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison on terrorism-related charges.

“We don’t want to give him the assistance of being criticized by the United States,” said the official, who asked not to be named, implying that such a move would strengthen his position among Palestinians.

The Palestinian Central Elections Commission officially announced yesterday that Mr. Barghouti is one of 10 candidates in the elections to replace the late Yasser Arafat.

The charismatic, 45-year-old firebrand entered the race on Wednesday, sending his wife to deposit his papers with the commission.

“I have decided to enter this democratic battle to maintain the path of the intifada and the resistance and to defend it and protect it from being labeled as terrorism,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that Barghouti will not be released from prison.

Although Barghouti is a member of Mr. Arafat’s Fatah faction in the Palestinian Liberation Organization — and its leader in the West Bank — he is pitting himself against Fatah’s moderate presidential candidate, Mahmoud Abbas, 69, who is seen as the front-runner.

The radical Palestinian movement Islamic Jihad joined its larger rival Hamas yesterday in a call to supporters to boycott the election.

“We urge the cadres, members and supporters of Jihad not to take part in the election,” Mohammad al-Hindi, one of the group’s main leaders, told reporters in Gaza City.

Meanwhile, the presence of election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was in doubt yesterday, with Russia opposing such a mission.

The OSCE makes decisions only by consensus, and Russia, as well as any of the 55 members, effectively has a veto.

Alexy Borovadkin, Russia’s ambassador to the OSCE in Vienna, Austria, told reporters that the monitoring of last month’s election in Ukraine showed that sometimes the organization is “not objective” and has “very, very much double standards.”

The OSCE and other Western observers reported massive fraud and manipulation during the Ukrainian election by the candidate supported by Moscow.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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