- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

President Bush assured Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak yesterday that a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians will be a priority in his second term.

Mr. Mubarak is just one of many foreign leaders — who stayed clear of Mr. Bush for weeks before the Nov. 2 election to avoid the appearance of playing political favorites — to let the White House know that they have the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on their minds.

Mr. Bush has received nearly a dozen calls from world leaders since his re-election and will host British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the White House tomorrow and Friday.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is making a hastily announced visit with the president today, a few days after he urged much of Europe to mend fences with the United States over the war in Iraq.

Egyptian state press said Mr. Bush had called Mr. Mubarak to discuss “cooperating more actively” in finding peace in the Middle East.

“Bush underlined that he would work towards the complete implementation of his vision of a settlement with the establishment of two states, Palestinian and Israeli, living together in peace and security,” Egypt’s state news service said.

Mr. Bush is the first president to openly advocate for an independent Palestinian state, but has insisted that Palestinian leadership not be linked to terrorism. That condition ruled out White House cooperation with the peace process until Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, who has a long history of supporting anti-Israeli terrorism, was out of power.

Last night, Mr. Arafat was reported to be in a coma in a French hospital and believed to be near death.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that high-level members of the administration “continue to monitor the situation” surrounding Mr. Arafat, but would not elaborate.

“We’re always in close contact with the parties,” he said. “We’re in close contact with European friends. I’m not going to get into all those staff-level discussions, though.”

Mr. Scheffer said Monday that European powers that opposed the war in Iraq — namely, France, Germany and Russia — should reach out to the United States and build consensus on how to help Iraq’s bloody and difficult transition from a dictatorship to a democracy.

“The two sides have much to learn from each other,” Mr. Scheffer said. “Europe can’t unite against the United States. That would only end up dividing Europe.”

France has led the opposition to Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy from the start, successfully limiting NATO’s involvement in training Iraqi security forces. Although some NATO members sent troops to help secure Iraq, Mr. Bush is expected to push for official NATO support in Iraq, if only to conduct training on Iraqi soil.

Mr. Blair has called revitalizing the Middle East peace process “the single most pressing political challenge in our world today.” The Sunday Times of London reported that Mr. Blair would press Mr. Bush to attend a summit of Israeli and Palestinian leaders in London early next year.

White House National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormick declined to comment on the accuracy of that report, saying only that “the Middle East will be an important topic of discussion.”

“We’ll let the two leaders have their discussion [Friday] before we have it in the press,” Mr. McCormick said.

Mr. Bush’s father, George Bush, lent credence to the Times report in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. this week.

“Blair is correct, 100 percent correct, and I think he will find the president a willing and able partner, particularly if there is a change in leadership in the [Palestine Liberation Organization] that we can deal with more openly and with more confidence,” the former president said.

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