BUSH won't meet Arafat at U.N.; Rice says Palestinian leader not serious on terrorism war

Thursday, November 8th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush will not see Yasser Arafat at the United Nations this weekend, believing the Palestinian leader does not take seriously the U.S. war on terrorism and the al-Qaida terror network, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Thursday.

``There are responsibilities that come with being the representative of the Palestinian people and that means to make certain that you do everything you can to lower the level of violence, everything that you can to root out terrorists,'' Rice said.

``These are responsibilities that we have asked Chairman Arafat to take and to take seriously. We still don't think there has been enough in that regard.''

Referring to two militant Islamic groups that the State Department has branded as terrorist organizations, Rice continued in a clipped tone: ``You cannot help us with al-Qaida and hug Hezbollah _ that's not acceptable _ or Hamas. The president continues to make that clear to Mr. Arafat and there are no plans to meet with Mr. Arafat in New York.''

On Saturday, Bush addresses the U.N. General Assembly, a special session that had originally been scheduled for the final week of September but was rescheduled after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. In that speech, the president will reaffirm his commitment to fighting terrorism ``and the regimes that harbor it,'' Rice said.

On Sunday, he attends, with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, an observance at the wreckage of the World Trade Center, two months after the attacks.

Bush will use his two days in Manhattan to meet separately with Annan and a handful of world leaders, including Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf is a key Muslim ally in the U.S. military campaign against suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, his al-Qaida network, and his allies within Afghanistan's ruling Taliban.

Rice said the United States is ``agnostic'' about the composition of a post-Taliban government, provided it is broadly based and represents the people of the South Asian country.

While Arafat has expressed support for the U.S. anti-terror campaign, the Bush administration complains that he has not done enough to curb Palestinian attacks on Israel. Bush leveled his demand for action in a letter to Arafat last month and has not once invited him to the White House.

Rice, in previewing Bush's diplomatic agenda at the United Nations, was notably harsh on Arafat. But she also criticized Israel, specifically for closing its borders to Palestinian workers from the West Bank and Gaza.

Nabil Shaath, a close adviser to Arafat, said at the State Department earlier Thursday that the Palestinian leader had not decided whether to go to the special session of the U.N. General Assembly at all.

But after meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Shaath said there is no alternative to a forceful U.S. presence if there is to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He declined to say whether the United States is preparing an initiative.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has canceled his attendance to remain in Israel and address security problems there. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres will head Israel's delegation.

On Iraq, which reportedly has a terrorist training camp for Islamic fundamentalists, Rice said: ``There is plenty of reason to watch Iraq.'' She cited its quest for weapons of mass destruction and continued designs on neighboring oil-rich Kuwait, which the United States helped liberate from Iraqi invasion a decade ago.

United Nations inspections of Iraqi weapons programs ended more than three years ago.

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