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White House: Arafat has yet to earn Bush's trust

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat still has to earn President Bush's confidence on the issues of governing by the rule of law and cracking down on corruption as well as curbing terrorism, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday.

He also said that while a "ministerial meeting" Secretary of State Colin Powell is organizing for the summer is not expected to produce a peace agreement for the Middle East, it "will be a very helpful way to explore ideas to create peace" and to bring together people who have ideas on how peace can be achieved.

Asked if the president believes the Palestinian Authority is plagued by corruption, Fleischer said, "As part of the president's vision of Israel and Palestine living side by side, two states living in security and peace, a major part of that is a commitment by the Palestinian people to have a state that is governed by the rule of law, by democracy, by transparency, by the lack of corruption.

"The president does have concerns about the Palestinian Authority, and making certain that the Palestinian people have a government that is worthy of them."

Fleischer said Bush has told the Palestinians "they need to make certain as part of a becoming a state that they take action to have transparency, the rule of law and fight corruption."

Asked if Bush believes Arafat could deliver that kind of government, Fleischer said, "Yasser Arafat, on the question of fighting terrorism and on the questions of corruption and rule of law, has not earned the president's trust."

He said Bush will continue to monitor those issues and pointed out that the Palestinians don't need to wait for the declaration of a state to move toward governing democratically and without corruption.

In the area the Palestinians now control, said Fleischer, there are "helpful steps the Palestinian Authority can take in the here and now" to crack down on corruption.

Fleischer said Powell made the announcement about the ministerial conference, planned for early summer, because he had just come out of a meeting with the so-called "quartet" -- the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia -- who will sponsor the meeting.

In answer to questions from reporters, Fleischer said Bush had signed off on the announcement even though no firm time, no agenda, and no list of who would attend was disclosed.

He said the president fully backs Powell's assertion on Thursday that Israel should stop settlement construction in the Palestinian territories.

Bush is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday. Fleischer said that while the United States understands Israel's need to act in self-defense, the president wants to make sure the Israelis don't take steps that harm the possibility of a political solution for the Middle East.

Sharon has said he will present a peace plan to Bush that will involve a "physical barrier" between the Palestinians and Israelis.




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