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SHARON likely to see Bush next week


WASHINGTON (AP) _ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel will make an unannounced visit to Washington next week with expectations he will meet with both President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The main item on the agenda is the decline in violence in the region and whether the time is right to take steps toward a resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians.

While Bush and Powell have backed Sharon in his demand that Yasser Arafat call a halt to attacks on Israel there is an element of disagreement on the requisite conditions for moving forward.

Sharon wants a total halt; the Bush administration wants a sharp and lasting decline in attacks before taking other steps.

Also on the agenda is Sharon's willingness to severely restrict construction of homes for Jews on the West Bank and in Gaza _ and the possibility that he has not gone far enough to suit Arafat.

Sharon has said construction will stop within the confines of existing settlements. Arafat wants a total freeze, and has the backing of a fact-finding commission headed by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, whose recommendations have been embraced without qualification by the State Department.

Sharon is due in Washington June 26, diplomatic sources said. His talks may go into the following day.

Two days later, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher el-Sayed will pay a call on Powell at the State Department.

The prime minister was the first Middle East leader to meet with Bush. Arafat has not been invited to the White House and is drawing considerably less attention than he did from former President Clinton.

Powell said Sunday that despite a reduction in Middle East violence, ``We need a lot more progress.

``The violence has gone down. It hasn't stopped,'' Powell said.

``We will reach a point where we'll have to a make a judgment whether or not we have seen enough to move forward. Right now we're not there yet, but I hope we're getting closer,'' he said.

An Israeli motorist was killed in a shooting ambush in the West Bank Monday, and Sharon said he would not start the clock on a six-week ``cooling-off period,'' a precursor to peace talks, until attacks stop.

Sharon also promised not to abandon a U.S.-sponsored cease-fire that went into effect nearly a week ago after CIA Director George Tenet gained Arafat's acceptance of its terms.

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