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Bush administration endorses German mediation between Arafat and Peres

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Bush administration Tuesday endorsed Germany’s effort to hold truce talks between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

”Whatever methodology that works for the two sides we will support,” deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell interrupted his vacation to call German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer about reports that Berlin might host truce talks.



”We support direct contacts between the parties and will support both sides in any efforts they want to make as much as possible.” Reeker said. Reeker stressed the U.S. interest in dialogue between the two sides, and said efforts by any government to arrange security talks were welcome. ”The Germans are trusted friends,” he said.

The Bush administration has encouraged Israel and the Palestinians to end their conflict and implement the cease-fire agreement that George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, arranged with them in June.



Fischer held a joint news conference Tuesday with Arafat at the Palestinian leader’s offices in Ramallah on the West Bank. Arafat said he was ready to hold truce talks in Berlin with Peres, who has proposed that a cease-fire be implemented gradually, in quiet regions first.

Fischer seemed surprised by Arafat’s comments, but said he was ready to host such talks. He suggested there might be other sites, as well.

”If there is a need of a direct meeting between you, Mr. President, and the foreign minister, we think it is a very good idea,” Fischer said.

”If this should happen in Berlin, in the office, the door will be always open, but I think there are some other places not so far away in regional distances,” he said. ”But this is a good idea.”

Peres, who is visiting Hungary, said he intended to meet with Arafat soon but suggested that a date has not yet been set. ”When I get home, we will have to discuss this,” he said.

Meanwhile, Edward S. Walker, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, called on the Bush administration to make clear its opposition to assassinations.

”If we don’t, it undermines our position as an intermediary and negotiator,” Walker told The Associated Press in an interview.

But the retired diplomat, who is now president of the Middle East Institute, said it was not up to the United States to tell Israel ”yea or nay on something as critical as this, with the terrorism going on.”

Walker said assassinating terrorists does not work because it makes the terrorist a hero, especially to young people, and does not strike at those responsible for attacks.

”I would hope Israel would find how to deal with the problem another way,” Walker said.

Reeker reiterated that the Bush administration is opposed to Israel’s targeting of suspected Palestinian terrorists for execution.

”We have long made very clear, made known the U.S. government’s opposition to the policy and practice of targeted killings, and we’re going to continue to urge the Israelis to desist from this policy,” he said.

A delegation from the American Jewish Committee met with White House and State Department officials Tuesday to discuss the Mideast conflict as well as a U.N. conference on racism that opens in South Africa at the end of the month.

David Harris, executive director of the committee, said, ”We were told the administration would take its time in making a decision” on attending the conference. He said Arab governments were trying to use the conference to accuse Israel of racism and to minimize the Holocaust.

On Israel and the Palestinians, Harris said the delegation asked that ”there be no space between the United States and Israel” on policy.

The group met with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Under Secretary Marc Grossman, Assistant Secretary William Burns and Steve Hadley, the Deputy White House National Security Adviser.


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