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Arab Leaders Lean on Bush to Bring About a Withdrawal

Diplomacy: Moderate states call for a harder push to end Israel's West Bank incursion. Bush and Powell try to find a fresh approach.


WASHINGTON — President Bush came under intense pressure from key Arab leaders to prod Israel to end its West Bank military operation, as he huddled Thursday with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to develop plans for a fresh attempt at ending the crisis.

In a friendly but blunt conversation, Jordan's King Abdullah II called Bush on Thursday to emphasize that the turmoil caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached the point where the stability of moderate Arab countries is at risk, according to well-placed sources who asked to remain anonymous.

The official Jordanian news agency reported that the king, a staunch U.S. ally, called on Bush to "take firm stances to make Israel immediately withdraw its troops from all the Palestinian territories, including the compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat."

But the sources told The Times that the Jordanian leader also stressed the dangers to his regime and other moderate governments in the region if the incursion does not end soon.

Through emissaries, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah also conveyed concern about the administration's failure to win Israel's compliance with U.S. and international demands for a speedy pullout from the West Bank. Arab diplomats said the prince, who is scheduled to visit Bush's Texas ranch next week, considered canceling the visit because of mounting frustration with the Bush administration--a claim denied by a senior administration official.

The prince, who is the de facto ruler of the oil-rich kingdom because of King Fahd's health problems, will have some tough words for Bush during the visit, a leading Arab envoy said.

"They're way beyond angry," the envoy added, referring to the prevailing Arab attitude.

The White House, in a bid to generate a sense of momentum to its peace efforts, may dispatch Powell back to the region in two or three weeks, administration sources said. And CIA Director George J. Tenet may go to Israel as early as next week to work on restoring security cooperation between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Powell, who returned from the Middle East this week after failing to negotiate a cease-fire, is scheduled to spend Saturday with Bush at Camp David working on strategy to push the new U.S. effort forward, White House and State Department officials said.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage acknowledged Thursday that the Middle East crisis is causing the U.S. trouble in the Arab world. "We are clearly, at least temporarily, losing some support," he told a House Appropriations subcommittee. "We've got a problem."

But the senior administration official, who requested anonymity, stressed the need for patience and perspective.

"If any American president had an idea as to how to resolve all this, it would have been done by now," the official said. "We know this is a long haul, that you don't solve a decades-old problem in one trip."

Many sources willing to discuss the tense diplomatic situation requested anonymity.

Although neither Israel nor the Palestinians complied with U.S. proposals during Powell's mission, the White House is pleased with what was achieved, the official said.

"The secretary went there with things exploding around him, literally, and he managed to defuse the situation. We do have the parties at least trying to respond to the responsibilities that were laid out for them--whether an Israeli withdrawal or statement that the Palestinians made" condemning terrorism.

Washington now expects Israel to withdraw from most Palestinian areas of the West Bank by Sunday, U.S. officials and Israeli diplomats said. Although Israel has pulled back from some areas, including Jenin, its tanks and troops are still in several cities and towns. Troops also moved into two villages Thursday on search-and-arrest raids, according to the State Department.

After Powell briefed Bush on Thursday, the president praised Israel and said it had "met the timetable" set by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for pulling out.

"History will show that they responded," Bush said. Sharon "gave me a timetable and he's met the timetable."

Earlier this month, Bush had called on Israel to withdraw "without delay."

To facilitate the withdrawal, U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials are trying to help mediate solutions to the standoffs at Arafat's headquarters in the city of Ramallah and at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. Israel says it will not end the blockades or withdraw troops from either Palestinian city until militants at both sites wanted in the assassination last fall of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, illegal arms shipments and other extremist acts are handed over.

Said the senior administration official: "It's very complicated. We're probing for answers with both sides." Some of the militants in Ramallah are people the United States asked the Palestinian Authority to arrest before Israel launched its incursion, the official added.

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