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W. House urges 'constructive steps' in Mideast

security fence
Ground preparations for construction of a security fence between Israel and the West Bank near Jenin.  

From Kelly Wallace
CNN Washington Bureau

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The White House on Monday called on all parties in the Middle East to take "constructive steps" and to "keep in mind the consequences of the actions they take."

The move came one day after Israel started constructing a 217-mile fence along the West Bank and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejected the idea of a temporary Palestinian state.

"It's important for all parties to take constructive steps to help move this toward two states living side by side in peace," said Scott McClellan, White House deputy press secretary.

McClellan was responding to a question about Sharon's declaration that the "conditions are not ripe" for a provisional Palestinian state.

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Aides have said one of the ideas President Bush was considering is supporting a temporary Palestinian state as an interim step to give hope to the Palestinian people.

McClellan said Bush would lay out his plan to bring about Palestinian statehood and deal with Israel's security concerns in the "very near future." Aides previously have said in the "near future."

Amid speculation that a statement could come as early as Tuesday, McClellan would only say, "Stay tuned."

The Bush spokesman walked a delicate balance, trying not to criticize Israel's decision to build a fence along the West Bank to keep Palestinian suicide bombers out of Israel, but making it clear the administration did not necessarily think that is a "constructive" step.

"Israel has a right to defend herself but I'll reiterate it's important to keep in mind the consequences of the actions they take," McClellan said.

The State Department reacted more forcefully to the construction of the fence, suggesting Israel should not be trying to delineate borders of a future Palestinian state.

"The issue of borders between Israel living side-by-side with a future Palestinian state is one that needs to be resolved through negotiation," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

"We've always opposed unilateral attempts to try to decide these issues. And that position hasn't changed."

Boucher also said the United States was very concerned about the situation along Israel's northern border with Lebanon and reports that Hezbollah guerillas were gearing up, with help from Iranian arm shipments, for possible attacks on Israel.

"We are concerned about the situation at Israel's northern border," Boucher said, adding the administration had been in touch with the Lebanese and Syrian governments through its U.S. embassies over the weekend.

"We have made quite clear that the influence that Syria has, and others have, on Hezbollah needs to be used in a positive direction and needs to be used to try to restrain these kinds of attacks."

He said the United States passed on a similar message to Iran but declined to say through which channels the message was communicated.

In a related development, Bush signed another six-month waiver to suspend a 1995 law that requires the United States to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the White House said.

The Bush administration, like the Clinton administration, believes the embassy should not be moved until the Israelis and Palestinians reach a settlement on the final status of Jerusalem.

Bush was in Atlanta to tout his initiatives to provide grants to low-income families and tax credits to developers to increase minority home ownership by 5.5 million before the end of the decade.

He spent the weekend at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. While there he had a phone conversation with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia about the Middle East and a talk with Mexican President Vincente Fox to wish Mexico good luck in Monday's World Cup Soccer match against the United States.

The president also called the American team to wish them luck before the game, McClellan said. The U.S. beat Mexico 2-0.




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