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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK
Bush steps up Mid-East diplomacy
Israeli soldier outside Ramallah refugee camp
The Bush administration seems divided on how to deal with the Middle East
US President George W Bush has met with the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in Washington - the latest in a series of contacts before new US proposals for Middle East peace are unveiled.

The meeting came only a day after confusion about US policy on the region deepened, with Secretary of State Colin Powell seemingly at odds with the White House.

They did not get into bullet-by-bullet, specific-by-specific plans

White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer
In the West Bank, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has called the first meeting of his reshuffled cabinet on Thursday, after Israel lifted its siege of his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

He announced the new, slimmed-down cabinet on Sunday, under pressure at home and abroad to reform his Palestinian Authority.

In what was described by White House spokesman Ari Fleischer as a "warm visit" Mr Bush and Prince Saud al-Faisal exchanged ideas on how to resolve the Middle East crisis.

Arab pressure

Although Mr Fleischer said that during the 20 minute meeting in the Oval Office they had only talked in a "generalised fashion."

Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal
Prince Saud al-Faisal: Pushing for a Palestinian state

"They did not get into bullet-by-bullet, specific-by-specific plans," the spokesman said.

Prince Saud al-Faisal was expected to echo calls by Arab leaders to act quickly to create a Palestinian state and compel Israel to give land it occupies illegally. He meets Mr Powell on Friday.

Speaking afterwards the Saudi minister said, "I was very pleased with what I heard from the president", but he did not give any specific details of what was discussed.

Mr Bush has already held talks with other regional leaders, including President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

US role

Mr Bush is expected to announce steps to advance Middle East peace efforts soon, possibly as early as next week.

He has expressed support for a Palestinian state and correspondents say the new policy will reflect his recent decision to step up US involvement in Middle East peace efforts.

Yasser Arafat
The US will continue to work with Arafat, said Powell

But the White House failed to endorse comments by Mr Powell raising the possibility of an interim Palestinian state and making it clear the US would continue working with Mr Arafat - despite Israeli pressure to cut him off.

Mr Powell said such a provisional state would enable the Palestinian people to see progress in the very near future.

Lively debate

However, Mr Fleischer made it clear that Mr Powell's ideas were not official policy.

"Welcome to the Middle East. This is a situation where people get a variety of information, a variety of advice and if the president has anything further to indicate, he will," Mr Fleischer said.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Washington says the episode is further evidence that a lively debate is still going on within the administration.

Envoys from the "quartet" of Middle East mediators plan to meet in Washington on Friday, diplomats say.

The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia have each appointed envoys to talk to the Israelis and Palestinians and gather regularly to discuss their efforts.

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