US: Arafat-Cheney meeting not guaranteed
Palestinian leader has conditions to satisfy, officials say
CNN Senior White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- White House officials say they have until Sunday night to decide whether Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has met the conditions necessary for a face-to-face meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney before next week's Arab summit.
At the same time, the White House moved to make clear its displeasure with Arafat, specifying the steps he must take if he wants the meeting to go forward and maintain the recent progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.
Officials said Arafat's reaction to Thursday's deadly bombing in Jerusalem was pivotal in the assessment as to whether the Cheney meeting will take place.
Both the president and vice president said in an Oval Office meeting Thursday morning that the final call would be made by special Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni, based on his assessment of whether Arafat was keeping his promise to implement the security improvements required by the so-called Tenet Plan. The security framework is named for CIA Director George Tenet.
After the Oval Office session, administration officials debated whether to put pressure on Arafat, and:
The administration believes a Cheney-Arafat meeting could serve several important purposes:
But two deadly bombings in two days have raised questions anew about whether Arafat has either the will or the authority to bring extremist Palestinian elements in line.
"This is his test," said one senior official involved in the deliberations. "Everyone knew there would be efforts by those who do not want peace to undermine the progress that we believe is being made."
Another official said of the bombing, "This is not helpful, obviously." But the official said it was too soon to say whether it would cause the administration to decide Arafat had not met the conditions for the Cheney meeting.
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