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Bush to Ask Arab Leaders to End Support of Terrorists

On the eve of a weeklong visit to Europe and the Middle East, the president also says he has forgiven France for its opposition to the war against Iraq.

May 30, 2003|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush said Thursday that he will ask Arab leaders to back the Middle East peace process by ending or preventing the financing of terrorist groups in the region.

On the eve of his departure for a weeklong visit to Europe and the Middle East, Bush also said he has forgiven France for its staunch opposition to the Iraq war and urged Iraqis to be patient while order is restored in their country before reconstruction can proceed.

In three wide-ranging interviews with French and Arab journalists, Bush added that while he is not preoccupied with Iran, he is nervous over reports that Al Qaeda members are operating inside that country.

Transcripts of the interviews were released by the White House on Thursday evening.

Bush is scheduled to leave this morning for Europe, stopping in Poland and Russia before attending an annual meeting of industrialized nations in Evian, France.

From there, he is scheduled to make several stops in the Middle East for key meetings -- first with Arab leaders in Egypt, next with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in Aqaba, Jordan.

Bush will meet with Sharon and Abbas individually before presiding at a summit among the three leaders.

At the meeting with the Arab leaders in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, Bush will urge that a delegation of them support the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.

"In other words, if they're interested in the achievement of peace, they must cut off funding, for example, or work to cut off the financing of money to terrorist groups that would like to destroy the process," the president said, previewing his message to them. Bush said he wanted the Arab leaders to "look me in the eye -- so they can see that I am determined to work to make [peace] happen," adding: "Hopefully, by now people have learned that -- that when George W. commits America to a project, we mean that -- we don't have idle chit-chat [and] we're serious about our intentions."

In his interview with the France 3 television network, Bush said, "I'm not mad" about French President Jacques Chirac's opposition to the Iraq war.

"I mean, I'm disappointed, and the American people are disappointed," he said. "But now is the time to move forward. And there's a lot of issues that we can work together on."

Bush added: "And I'm going to remind him, just like I'm going to remind a lot of people, that we can do a heck of a lot more together than we can arguing with each other. And I can understand why some didn't agree with our policy in Iraq, but it's now time to move forward."

On Iraq, the president said he is not concerned that the oil-rich nation could evolve into an Islamic republic with ties to Iran.

"No, I don't fear that. I think the Iraqi people want to run their own state. They don't need to have an Iranian-backed regime. I think the Iraqi people are plenty capable of managing their own affairs," Bush said.

As for Iran, Bush said he expects the country's leaders to detain any Al Qaeda members and hand them over to their countries of origin.

"Our main focus right now is to find Al Qaeda wherever they exist and bring them to justice. And we will do that. We'll continue to do that," he said. "And we expect others to join us."

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