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Frustrated Bush says he is disappointed in Arafat, but may send Cheney to meet with him

Updated:
(WASHINGTON) - President Bush said Thursday he was disappointed with Yasser Arafat's response to calls for an end to attacks on Israel, and said Vice President Dick Cheney would meet with the Palestinian leader only if he agrees to terms to end the violence.

A decision on Cheney's return to the region depends on a judgment by U.S. mediator Anthony Zinni, who is trying to nudge Israel and the Palestinians into cease-fire.

If ``Zinni signs off on it, then I'm prepared to go back almost immediately for a meeting,'' Cheney said after reporting to Bush about the trip he took to the Persian Gulf and the Middle East that ended Wednesday night.

``But it will depend on whether or not Arafat is complying'' with U.S. demands for an end to violence, Cheney said, sitting alongside Bush in the Oval Office.

Bush said Cheney had told him there was a chance Arafat would approve a cease-fire plan devised last year by the director of the Central Intelligence Agency George Tenet. ``If that were to happen, in my judgment, I think it would be best if he would then go see Mr. Arafat,'' Bush said.

``We set some strong conditions and we expect Mr. Arafat to meet those conditions,'' Bush went on. ``I frankly have been disappointed in his performance.''

In Jerusalem, however, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a main shopping area, killing at least two bystanders and wounding at least 30 people. Israel canceled Thursday's round of U.S.-brokered cease-fire talks with the Palestinians,, a setback for Zinni's mission.

On Wednesday, an Islamic militant detonated explosives on a crowded commuter bus in northern Israel, killing himself and seven other passengers, including four soldiers.

Expressing his frustration, Bush said Arafat had to do a better job of curbing violence against Israel.

``We expect him to be reining in those people with whom he's got influence,'' Bush said. ``Clearly, he's not going to have influence with every single suicide bomber. I understand that.

``But we expect him to be diligent and firm and consistent in his efforts to rein in those who would like to disrupt any progress toward peace, and rein in those who would harm our friends, the Israelis,'' the president said.

Cheney's mission centered on U.S. efforts to rally Arab leaders to support strong action against Iraq. He said Thursday ``they are uniformly concerned about the situation in Iraq,'' especially Saddam Hussein's failure to live up to a pledge at the end of the Persian Gulf war a decade ago to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction.

Bush, meanwhile, said Cheney had made it clear to the Arab leaders that ``when we say we're going to do something we mean it.''

``What we are resolved to do is to fight the war on terror,'' Bush said. ``This isn't a short-term strategy for us.''

A meeting with Cheney could clear the way for Arafat also to attend an Arab League conference in Beirut, Lebanon, next week. Cheney was pressured by Arab leaders to appeal to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to lift a travel ban on Arafat so he could attend the Beirut talks.

Bush said deplored the violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

``I am frustrated by the violence in the Middle East, and so are the people who live in the Middle East,'' Bush said. ``I know there are some people who do not want us to achieve any kind of peaceful settlement of a long-standing dispute, and they're willing to use terrorist means to disrupt any progress that's being made. And that frustrates me. It frustrates mothers and dads who happen to be Palestinian or Israeli because they want to raise their children in a secure environment.''

Expressing hope for a political settlement, Bush said, ``But first and foremost, we've got to come up with a security agreement.''

On his trip, Cheney was buffeted by a steady stream of objections to any immediate military action against Iraq.

With the Arab League due to take up next week an Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Arab leaders urged the vice president to give diplomacy a chance.

The constant message of the Arab leaders was to defer any military action until the results of diplomacy are in, an Arab diplomat told The Associated Press in Washington.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan plans to meet with a senior Iraqi official next month in New York about permitting U.N. weapons inspectors to return to Iraq after a lapse of more than three years.

If Iraq were to reject weapons inspections, the Bush administration would have a better case for military action, said the Arab official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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