ISRAELI president asks Bush to confront Arafat with a deadline

Thursday, May 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Israel's president said Thursday he asked President Bush to set a deadline for the Palestinians to end attacks on Israel.

Bush called it ``an interesting idea'' but made no commitment, Moshe Katsav told Israeli reporters after the two presidents' 20-minute White House meeting.

Katsav said he also told Bush that terror attacks have stressed the Israeli people beyond reasonable limits.

He said nothing about how the United States could enforce such a deadline. But on Thursday, Katsav told The Associated Press, without elaboration, that the United States and other nations should suspend dealing with the Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority if attacks on Israel were not stopped.

The White House would not comment on Katsav's account of the Oval Office meeting. Neither Bush nor Secretary of State Colin Powell, who met separately with the Israeli, made statements. In addition to the Katsav meeting, Powell telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and head of the authority.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Powell had asked Arafat ``to make a 100 percent effort to calm the situation and to implement the Mitchell committee's call for an immediate, unconditional, cessation of violence.''

The Mitchell Commission, headed by former Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell, said Palestinian leaders needed to do more to curb violence.

Boucher also criticized the Palestinian Authority for failing to assign all key security officials to talks with Israel arranged by the United States.

In the call to Sharon, Powell asked that prime minister ``to continue to exercise restraint,'' Boucher said.

Sharon has halted Israeli retaliation to attacks, but Katsav said in his Wednesday interview the unilateral cease-fire could end within a few days if Palestinian attacks continued.

``President Bush knows all the details,'' Katsav said after their meeting Thursday. ``He is engaged enough in the matter.''

Talking to reporters in the White House driveway, Katsav was asked if Bush had urged Israel not to retaliate for Palestinian attacks.

``No, sir,'' Katsav responded promptly.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said that in the meeting, Bush reaffirmed U.S. support for Israel and again discussed the United States' engagement to be a facilitator for peace in the region.

The reception accorded Katsav, whose post is largely ceremonial, contrasted sharply with the White House's reluctance to extend an invitation to Arafat.

Katsav stayed at Blair House, the presidential guest house across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, and was given a dinner by Bush Thursday night.

Sharon, meanwhile, was the first Middle East leader to call on the President.

Meanwhile, the Zionist Organization of America urged the Bush administration to offer a reward for information leading to the capture of the Palestinians who killed Barbara Balustein, 53, of Lawrence, N.Y., in a drive-by shooting Tuesday near the town of Efrat.

Her husband, Norman, and son, Sammy, were wounded in the shooting. A young Israeli woman, Esther Alvari, also was killed in the attack.

The Jewish group said Mrs. Blaustein was the 18th U.S. citizen murdered by terrorists since Israel and the Palestinians signed the Oslo accords in 1993.

Boucher said ``general reward money'' is available for anyone who provides information on terrorist activities against Americans.

``We don't have to post a special reward for anybody,'' he said. ``If there's an American who's been attacked by terrorists, and you can provide some information, we want it, and we can provide reward money in return.''