Sharon, Bush shake on mutual friendship
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. President George W. Bush affirmed continued support for each other on Tuesday when the two leaders met for the first time since both took office.
Bush and Sharon characterized their meeting as positive, adding that the discussions covered "areas of common interest."
"We had a very constructive and frank discussion of strategic issues in the interests of the United States and Israel," Sharon said. "We discussed the peace process -- what can we achieve and how.
"We have friends here and you have friends there," Sharon told his American host.
Bush said his administration would "do everything we can to help calm nerves, to encourage there to be dialogue in a peaceful way."
"I assured the prime minister my administration would work hard to lay the foundation of peace in the Middle East ... to give peace a chance."
Bush also clarified his position on the status of Jerusalem, the ancient city claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians as a capital. The final status of the city, Bush said, "must ultimately be determined by the affected parties."
But, he added, "During the (election) campaign I said we would begin the process of moving our embassy (from Tel Aviv) to Jerusalem."
Sharon keeps finger aimed at Arafat
Sharon told a pro-Israeli group convention in Washington on Monday that he would "do what is necessary to protect the people of Israel."
"Yasser Arafat (Palestinian Authority president) must understand first and foremost that he will gain nothing from violence," the former general said to rousing applause before the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "Israel will not negotiate while Israeli civilians and soldiers are under fire and under threat of terror.'
Sharon said in his speech on Monday that "missile defense is an absolute imperative" for Israel.
Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the delegates to the AIPAC convention that there was "no question that America will stand by Israel."
"We recognize that Israelis live in a very dangerous neighborhood, so we will work, we will look for ways to strengthen and expand our valuable strategic cooperation with Israel, so that we can help preserve a qualitative military edge," he said.
Sharon met with Powell on Monday, as well as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet.
No end to violence
While Sharon traveled to Washington, the almost daily violence both he and U.S. officials wanted to see end did nothing of the sort.
An Israeli man was found dead Monday near the northern border, while another motorist was killed in a drive-by shooting. On Sunday, Palestinian extremists in Gaza fired mortar bombs into Israel, wounding an Israeli soldier.
"The status quo is costly," Powell said Monday. But he added that if peacemaking efforts were to drift it would "only lead to greater tragedy."
"Neither Israelis nor Palestinians are served by the current situation," he said, insisting both parties need a "dialogue that will lead to mutually acceptable political economic and security arrangements, be they transitional or permanent, partial or whole."
In his speech, Sharon restated Israel's position that Arafat was the sole cause of the violence, which has left over 400 people dead, most of them Palestinians.
"Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are returning to the belief that they can defeat Israel by means of armed struggle," he said. "Arafat is willing to destabilize the entire Middle East ... in order to achieve his goals."
CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.
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