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U.S. flails as violence mounts

Bush says Arafat can do more to stop terrorist attacks

William Douglas

Edmonton Journal

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Walking a fine line between tough anti-terrorism rhetoric and efforts to effect a ceasefire in the Middle East, U.S. President George W. Bush said Monday Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is exempt from his "Bush Doctrine," which labels those who harbour terrorists as terrorists themselves.

The White House found itself on the defensive in justifying the so-called Bush Doctrine, countering criticism of the administration's level of engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian clash and disputing critics' claims that the administration is flailing about in its attempts to end the violence.

In arguing their case Monday, administration officials offered mixed messages. U.S. State Department officials expressed grave concerns about the Israeli occupation of Ramallah and urged Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government to use "maximum restraint" to avoid harming civilians.

The White House tone was less forceful. While calling for peace, Bush reaffirmed Israel's right to do what it considers necessary to defend itself.

"I think it's very important for the prime minister to keep a pathway to peace open, to understand that on the one hand, Israel should protect herself, and on the other hand, there ought to be a pathway ... to achieve a peaceful resolution to this issue."

Bush repeated his call for Arafat to denounce terrorism and to do more to rein in terrorist elements. But he said his Bush Doctrine should not be used to tab Arafat a terrorist, even though some groups linked to Arafat have claimed responsibility for some of the suicide attacks in Israel.

"Chairman Arafat has agreed to the peace process," Bush said. "He has negotiated with parties as to achieve peace."

Later, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush believes that "the path to peace goes through Chairman Arafat," and urged reporters not to compare the doctrine's use in Afghanistan -- where the United States is battling to root out al-Qaeda and Taliban forces -- and its dormancy in the Middle East.

The difference, Fleischer said, is that the Palestinians and Israelis have agreed to a ceasefire plan forged by CIA director George Tenet and a road map to peace developed by a committee headed by former Maine Democratic senator George Mitchell.

"That was not the case with al-Qaeda," Fleischer said, reflecting the administration's desire to separate the war on terrorism from the Palestinian-Israeli clash. "I understand you want to compare them, but that's not a comparison that the president accepts."

But even as the White House tried once again to create space between the two issues, U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld merged them Monday at the Pentagon. He accused Iran and Iraq -- members of Bush's so-called "Axis of Evil" along with North Korea -- and Syria of supporting terrorism aimed at Israel.

"Murderers are not martyrs. Targeting civilians is immoral whatever the excuse."

 Copyright 2002 Edmonton Journal