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Bush Says Arab States Must Choose Peace or Terrorism

Policy: Those in region have a responsibility to help calm the Mideast conflict, president says.

April 18, 2002|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LEXINGTON, Va. — President Bush said Wednesday that the Arab nations that have supported the U.S.-led fight in Afghanistan must also clearly oppose terrorist acts in the Middle East, singling out Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

"All parties have a responsibility to stop funding or inciting terror. And all parties must say clearly that a murderer is not a martyr; he or she is just a murderer," Bush said in a speech that put moderate Arab states on notice that, in his view, they are either on the side of peace or supporters of terrorism.

Bush's comments were his first in public on the Middle East since Secretary of State Colin L. Powell embarked early last week on a mission to the region. And they came as Powell headed home.

Addressing cadets at the Virginia Military Institute, Bush declared that his administration will continue to be involved in the Middle East. Before the Powell trip, Bush had faced growing criticism for not doing enough to address the spiraling violence between Palestinians and Israelis.

"We're confronting hatred that is centuries old, disputes that have lingered for decades," Bush said. "But I want you to know, I will continue to lead toward a vision of peace."

He offered no specifics on how he would pursue this goal.

He also sought to broaden responsibility for calming the conflict--a goal that largely eluded Powell, who returned without a cease-fire agreement.

"All parties have responsibilities," Bush said. "Those responsibilities are not easy, but they're clear."

Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia supported the campaign in Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Bush said. Now, he said, "they must help confront terrorism in the Middle East."

More broadly, the president directly applied to the Middle East what has become known as the "Bush doctrine": that in the war on terrorism, no nation can be neutral.

"In the Middle East, where acts of terror have triggered mounting violence, all parties have a choice to make," the president said. "Every leader, every state must choose between two separate paths: the path of peace or the path of terror."

The speech previewed the message he is expected to deliver to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah when the two meet at Bush's ranch in Texas next week.

In recent days, the administration has sought to draw attention to the human cost of the conflict to both Palestinians and Israelis.

On Monday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz drew boos from some attending a massive pro-Israel rally in Washington when he said, "It is critical that we recognize and acknowledge" that along with Israelis, "innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying in great numbers as well."

Bush touched upon that theme in his speech, saying, "In the stricken faces of mothers, Palestinian mothers and Israeli mothers, the entire world is witnessing the agonizing cost of this conflict."

The president outlined specific, short-term steps that he believes are necessary to defuse the Middle East crisis.

His directive to Israel seemed less emphatic than previous comments. As Powell started his trip, Bush had demanded that Israel withdraw "without delay" from the cities and villages it has occupied in the West Bank.

Now, with some troop movement underway, the president said only that "Israel must continue its withdrawals."

Bush didn't mention by name Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon or Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. But he made it clear that the condemnation of suicide bombers Arafat finally issued over the weekend would be insufficient if not accompanied by a real effort to bring the attacks to an end.

"The Palestinian Authority must act--must act--on its words of condemnation against terror," Bush said.

He also said that all Arab states "must step up to their responsibilities" to end terrorism.

In the longer run, Bush said, the region must realize that the only solution is the existence of two nations, Israel and Palestine, "side by side in security and in peace."

"That will require hard choices and leadership by Israelis, Palestinians and their Arab neighbors," Bush said. "The time is now for all to make the choice for peace."

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