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Clinton 'encouraged' by Bush approach to Mideast

Without a Mideast plan, Clinton says,
Without a Mideast plan, Clinton says, "we are at the mercy of events."  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Former President Bill Clinton said Thursday he supports steps President Bush is taking in the Middle East.

"It sounds to me like the administration is moving in the right direction now," Clinton told reporters as he ended a visit to a high school in the Bronx. He applauded the recent decision to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region, saying, "I think the more America is there, even if we don't make something really good happen, fewer bad things will happen."

Bush, early in his administration, had backed away from the policies of heavy involvement that had marked the Clinton administration. But that has changed in recent weeks.

Noting that Bush "appears to be on the verge of announcing a plan" for the region, Clinton said, "I also strongly support that."

"Even if the Israelis and the Palestinians disagree with our position, over time we can bring them closer to it. But if we don't have a plan and no one knows what our policy is, then we are at the mercy of events."

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He called the idea of a provisional Palestinian state, which Bush is expected to propose within a few days, "a very sound solution."

Because the United States is the only large nation whose support for Israel is clear, Clinton said, "America is the only big country that can actually argue for justice for the Palestinians. These people have been poorly governed. They've been used as political footballs by others. They're having a very tough time, and they deserve a different and better life. ... They deserve a state."

His goal as president, he said, was "to get security and normal relations for Israel and peace for the Palestinians. And I think if the president's going to propose a plan, even if both sides in the beginning don't accept it all, that's a very good step in the right direction."

"I'm really encouraged by what I see and hear and I think we all owe Secretary Powell a debt of gratitude for all the work he's been doing on this," he said.

But Clinton warned that any progress in the region will be slow.

"I don't think we can get a final solution because too many people have died. There's too much loss of trust, there's too much anger, there's too much hurt," he said. "But what we need is to do what we did back in 1997 after a series of killings, then-Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu and (Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat met at Wye River in Maryland for nine and a half days and reached an agreement that kept the peace until September of 2000.

"That is, I presume, what the administration is working for again. And this time they could do it and also set a framework, a timetable for the final resolution of the issues. And it seems to me that's where they're going, and if that is where they are going, I strongly support it."

Clinton was at the Latino Pastoral Action Center, a charter school in the Bronx, as part of the Democratic Leadership Council's "national service day." While there he attended a math class, served students their lunch and played a game called "Fox and Chickens" in which he chased children in the gym.




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