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U.S. considers revamping Mideast policy

Peres and Powell.
Israeli Foreign Minister Peres with Powell at the State Department Friday.  


From Major Garrett
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration is debating whether to rely completely on two long-standing pillars of its Middle East policy or adapt them to a broader U.S.-backed initiative designed to break the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.

Senior administration officials told CNN no decisions have been made about whether to rethink the role of the Tenet security and Mitchell political plans. For now, they said, Tenet and Mitchell remain central.

But officials acknowledge the president's top advisers are reviewing administration options in light of the meager results of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip to the region and a growing sense that the Tenet and Mitchell plans have failed to move either side toward compromise.

The Tenet plan is a mutual security agreement drafted by CIA Director George Tenet. The Mitchell Plan is a set of procedures for both sides to follow in pursuit of a final settlement of so far intractable issues such as boundaries of a Palestinian state, the right of refugees to return and the status of Jerusalem.

The two peace plans have never been implemented. Israel has said Palestinians never complied with Tenet's requirement to stop violence and incitement, while the Palestinians have said Israel had never committed to Mitchell's required confidence-building measures, especially a freeze in construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

When asked if Tenet and Mitchell remain the Bush administration's approaches to peace in the region, a senior administration official said: "Yes, at this time."

A second senior official said the administration was "constantly reviewing" its Middle East policy but conceded new topics of debate have arisen in light of Powell's trip. This official said that Tenet and Mitchell would likely remain part of a Bush Middle East policy, but did not rule out new approaches to augment the two plans.

Meanwhile, the White House said Friday it would support an independent investigation into events at the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin during the recent Israeli military action there. The U.N. Security Council was meeting in closed consultations to consider several draft resolutions calling for a probe into what happened in Jenin. (Full story)

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Significantly, when President Bush appeared with Powell in the Oval Office on Thursday, he referred to Tenet and Mitchell only in the past tense -- as part of the administration's historic engagement in the Middle East -- but not when he was talking about the future of policy in the region.

"We're serious when we talk about two states living side by side, and that we're laying the foundations for peace, the structures necessary to get to peace," Bush said. "Progress is being made toward our vision. In order for that vision to be achieved, leaders must take responsibility, leaders in the region must be responsible citizens for a peaceful world."

Powell also left out any references to Tenet and Mitchell in his description of ways to pursue peace, and said the administration was weighing other options to jump-start peace negotiations.

"We made clear to the leaders in the region that we want to move forward with negotiations as early as possible," Powell said. "And we're looking at different ways to do that once security has been established."

Powell will join the president and the entire National Security Council on Friday to discuss options in the Middle East. Vice President Dick Cheney, Chief of Staff Andrew Card and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice were with the president and Powell for Thursday's initial briefing on the Middle East peace mission.

Senior officials also said the White House is studying how much the United States should contribute to a global fund devoted to rebuilding shattered Palestinian cities and refugee camps. Powell said for the first time Thursday that reconstruction efforts in the Palestinian territories would be part of the broader U.S. push for a final peace settlement.

"There would be a great need for humanitarian relief, for reconstruction efforts, and all that has to be part of an integrated strategy," Powell said.

U.S. sends aid to Palestinians

While in the region, Powell announced the United States would provide an additional $30 million in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. The United States sends about $80 million in aid a year to the Palestinians. Aid workers who have toured Jenin and other damaged areas in the West Bank report massive infrastructure damage that will require billions of dollars in aid to rebuild.

Senior officials said it was too early to discuss how much money is necessary for reconstruction. Even so, the administration has been sounding out key legislators on the size and scope of an aid package. Those discussions are also in the preliminary stages and have yet to yield concrete proposals.

Senior officials said the review of U.S. policy in the Middle East is driven in part by the calculation that continued high levels of violence in the region will undermine U.S. goals in the global war on terrorism.

If Israeli incursions continue in the West Bank, these advisers said, the United States is likely to lose the cooperation it has come to rely upon from neighboring Arab nations in its pursuit of al Qaeda leaders, operatives and foot soldiers.

"You can't fight the war on terrorism through military means alone," one adviser said. "We need the cooperation of a network of worldwide intelligence. And in order to maintain that cooperation we need to pursue peace or have peace in the Middle East."



 
 
 
 







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