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Lieberman Faults Arafat on Violence

Mideast: In Los Angeles, Gore's running mate says the Palestinian leader has not seized the opportunity. Cheney, in Illinois, says Mideast issue is too sensitive.


Deploring the recent violence in the Middle East, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman said Wednesday that Yasser Arafat has missed opportunities to bring peace to the region and called on the Palestinian leader to use his power to stop the fighting.

"The tragedy here, with all respect, is that [Palestinian Authority] Chairman Arafat particularly has not seized this moment of opportunity to reach across the table and meet [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak to create the kind of understanding that is clearly in the best interests of all the people in the region," Lieberman said.

The Democratic vice presidential candidate made his remarks to about 350 Democratic Party donors, many of them Jewish, at a fund-raiser in Century City.

He spoke out on the Middle East bloodshed hours after Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney did the same. Cheney, a former Defense secretary, said Arafat "has failed to deliver from the standpoint of the Palestinians."

But Cheney declined to talk about President Clinton's efforts to broker a peace agreement.

At a campaign stop in Franklin Park, Ill., Cheney was asked what Clinton or Vice President Al Gore could have done differently in the Middle East--or what he and GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush would do--to stop the violence. After a long pause, Cheney said the subject was too sensitive to discuss in depth.

"I'm tempted to lay out a set of policy recommendations, but I really think the situation is so delicate and so volatile at this point," Cheney said. "It would not be helpful in terms of the situation over there today if I were to respond as forcefully to the question as I might like to."

The remarks by Lieberman and Cheney were a rare foray into foreign policy in a presidential campaign dominated by domestic issues such as health care, education and taxes.

Lieberman, in what aides said were impromptu remarks, praised Barak's "commitment to the ideal of peace," crediting him with moving the peace process forward. And he used strong language to challenge Arafat to exercise his authority over rioting protesters, laying the responsibility for peace squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinian leader.

"It's going to be some time if the process breaks down now before there is a leader as forthcoming and bold on the peace process as Prime Minister Barak," the Connecticut senator said. "If he [Arafat] does not seize this moment, the cause and the interest of his own people in the region to achieve a better life is going to be lost for a good long period of time."

His audience of donors, who gave $600,000 to the Democratic National Committee at the luncheon at the St. Regis Hotel, applauded enthusiastically.

As the first Jewish candidate on a major party's national ticket, Lieberman's posture on Middle East issues is watched closely. He has said that he would be evenhanded in dealing with issues in the Middle East, adding that his allegiance is always to the Constitution and the interests of the United States.

On Wednesday, he suggested that the U.S. must push Palestinians to end the violence. "We in the United States really have to call upon the leadership of the Palestinian community to stop the violence, to stop the unrest, to be leaders," Lieberman said.

"Arafat has, by any measure, more credibility in the Palestinian community and the Arab world than anybody--there's no one close to him," Lieberman added. "This is the moment for him to use it to stop the violence, to stop the breeding of hatred toward Israel which flashes out, as it has in the last two weeks."

Cheney, at a campaign stop in Missouri, raised some doubts about Middle East peace efforts.

"Coming out of the [Persian] Gulf War, we were positioned to move that process forward in ways that had never been possible before," he said. "Now, though, it looks like it's coming unglued."

Still, Clinton's attempts to stop the bloodshed in the Middle East have been one of the few areas where Bush, the governor of Texas, has resisted attacking the administration.

"Gov. Bush believes that this is a time for America to speak with one voice, and we support the president's efforts to bring the parties back to the peace table," Bush spokesman Ray Sullivan said. "The governor would like to see all the leaders in the region, particularly Chairman Arafat, do what they can and must to end the violence and restore the peace."

The vice presidential candidates' remarks on the Middle East came as both pushed their priority issues on the stump. In Oregon, Lieberman touted Gore's education agenda while, in Missouri, Cheney promoted Bush's proposed military buildup.


Times staff writer Michael Finnegan contributed to this story.

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