U.S. isolated over Arafat stance
NEW YORK -- The U.S. has been left isolated by its new Mideast strategy after the U.N., Europe and Russia clashed with the Bush administration at the first high-level meeting of a mediating 'quartet'.
The U.S. failed to win over European and Arab diplomats to its new policy of ostracizing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and insisting Israeli security was a primary precondition for steps towards peace, The Associated Press reported.
The "quartet" -- comprising of Powell, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan -- had met primarily to devise a working plan to bring about a Palestinian state alongside Israel in three years.
But the leaders insisted at a two-hour meeting in New York, chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, that Arafat's role as Palestinian leader was legitimate and demanded rapid progress towards setting up a Palestinian state.
An ambush in the West bank by Palestinian militant hours earlier killed seven people and wounded 14 others in the first deadly attack on Israeli civilians since June 20.(Full story)
The next day, Wednesday, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the entrance to a convenience store in southern Tel Aviv, killing at least three civilians and wounding more than 40 people. (Full story)
Powell said the fresh bloodshed was another example Arafat's leadership was not helping create a state and he stood firm on President Bush's insistence that ending violence must take precedence over other goals, including Palestinian statehood.
"Everything really begins with creating a better sense of security," he said after the meeting.
But public statements on Arafat showed the Europeans and the moderate Arabs do not share Bush's approach to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We obviously do have tactical differences over the issue of dealing with Arafat," a senior U.S. official told Reuters news agency.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "We all have our respective positions. The U.N. still recognizes Chairman Arafat and we will continue to deal with him."
Russia's Ivanov told Reuters: "It is only for the Palestinians to decide who they want to have as their leaders. It is the sovereign right of the Palestinian people."
"(Chairman Arafat) is the legitimately elected leader of Palestine and while he is in this capacity we will continue to maintain our relations with him," he added.
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, told the agency: "Now they (the Palestinians) are having elections and then we will see who will become leader after the election but whoever is leader is the person the European Union will be talking to."
Despite the Bush administration shunning Arafat, Powell told The Associated Press "there's a way to work with the Palestinians and Israelis" and he added Palestinian officials, who he declined to identify, were cooperating.
Foreign Ministers Ahmed Maher of Egypt and Marwan Muasher of Jordan later offered their governments' support for progress in the Mideast after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Powell.
Maher said it should now be clear to Israel that using force will not end Palestinian violence and that agreeing on two states was the only possible solution.
A meeting of an international task force was set for August to take up financial accountability, elections and judicial and administrative reform, officials said in a statement.
The four officials expressed their "increasing concern about the mounting humanitarian crisis in Palestinian areas and their determination to address urgent Palestinian needs," an official statement said.
They urged Israel to relax its curbs on Palestinian travel, withdraw its forces from Palestinian-held areas as security improves and turn over to the Palestinian Authority about $600 million in tax revenue.
A senior U.S. official said the CIA was developing security arrangements that could involve training Palestinians in curbing violence. Americans may be involved, probably in administrative jobs, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
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