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Bush continues consultations on Mideast peace

From Kelly Wallace and John King
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush, who met with the Saudi foreign minister Thursday, has not completed his consultations about ways to try to move the Israelis and Palestinians forward on a path to peace, his spokesman said.

Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary, said Bush planned to continue discussions with members of his administration and did not rule out the possibility of the president having more talks with world leaders.

"He has not yet completed his consultations," Fleischer told reporters. "The president is going to be discussing various ideas about Middle East peace with members of his administration and members of the administration will continue their outreach to other nations in a multi-lateral fashion and that's where the president currently stands."

Since Friday, Bush has met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal.

Bush told reporters last week, that after his meetings with Mubarak and Sharon, he would tell the "country" his ideas about "how we move forward."

"The administration continues to listen, continues to consult, it's a multi-lateral process and when the president has something to say, he will say it," Fleischer said.

A senior administration official told CNN there is a debate within the administration over what form the president's statement will take and when it will come.

Asked for the second day in a row if the administration were considering supporting a temporary or transitional Palestinian state, Fleischer said, "This is an idea that has been shared with the administration, one of many ideas and many ideas are under consideration."

In an interview with an Arabic language newspaper Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested the administration might consider supporting a temporary or provisional state.

Fleischer continues to say that Powell was talking about some of the advice the president has been receiving, and refused to describe the administration's idea of what a provisional Palestinian state would be.

"The president has been receiving advice from a variety of people, some of it dealing with the possibility of a provisional state and I would leave it to the people who are using those words to define it," Flesicher said.

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there is a debate within the administration between those aligned with Powell, who believes that Arafat needs to be dealt with, and those who think that Arafat should be deemed irrelevant.

Fleischer described the 20 minute Oval Office meeting between Bush and Saudi Prince Saud as "warm" and said the two men exchanged "a variety of ideas about how to move forward."

"The president believes that Saudi Arabia is committed to a meaningful and lasting peace process in the Middle East and that includes providing for security for Israel as well as a hopeful and helpful future for the Palestinian people," Fleischer said.

The Saudi foreign minister met with Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser earlier Thursday, and with Vice President Cheney.

"I am very pleased with what I heard from the president," Prince Saud said upon leaving the White House, refusing to answer questions until his Friday meeting with Secretary Powell.

The challenge for Bush is finding an approach that all sides can live with, with Arab leaders such as Mubarak pushing for a timeline for political talks and the creation of a Palestinian state and the Israelis arguing there can be no timeline and no discussions until Palestinian violence ends and the leadership changes.

Bush's meeting with the Saudi foreign minister focused exclusively on the Middle East and did not include discussions of cases of American children who are being held by their fathers in Saudi Arabia, Fleischer said.

Congress convened a hearing Wednesday, featuring the tearful testimony of women who claim their American children have been kidnapped by their Saudi fathers and are being held in Saudi Arabia against their will.

The issue was discussed during a meeting between Assistant Secretary of State William Burns and Prince Saud, the Bush spokesman said.

"This issue which involves Saudi law, the definition of Saudi law, represents one of the most heartwrenching, difficult issues to deal with, when different nations have different laws dealing with the applicability of statute in terms of who is defined as the parent and what custody is," Fleischer said.

Under Saudi law, women or children need a father's, husband's or brother's permission to travel anywhere, especially out of the country.




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