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Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 21:15 GMT
Low expectations for Sharon visit
Ariel Sharon and Rudy Giuliani
Ariel Sharon expressed doubts about peace at ground zero
By BBC Washington Correspondent Tom Carver

Standing next to Rudy Giuliani at Ground Zero on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said: "I don't think we can reach the peace to which we aspire as long as Arafat runs a policy of violence and terror."

Ariel Sharon may be willing to resolve the Middle East conflict but it's going to be on his own terms.

The prime minister lays all blame for the violence at the feet of his rival, Yasser Arafat.

Much to America's frustration, he is insisting on seven days of "absolute quiet" from the Palestinians before he will even begin to talk about the peace process.
A bus destroyed by a bomb
There has been little break to the violence in Israel

At the moment, it's tough to find a single day when there's no violence, let alone seven.

The 73-year-old general nearly delayed his visit to America - his third this year - after a suicide bomber blew up an Israeli bus.

He claims the Palestinian leader could turn off the tap of the 14-month-old Intifada tomorrow if he wanted to.

That may be true, but the Israeli PM is not being exactly accommodating either, and Americans suspect that his seven-day demand is a convenient way of avoiding having to discuss a final settlement.

US policy shift

So the Americans have sent two envoys - retired general Anthony Zinni and William Burns - to the region to try to bring down the level of violence so that talks can begin.

Ariel Sharon's hard line does not have the full backing of his cabinet. His own Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, says Israel should initiate talks before expecting a ceasefire from the Palestinians.
Shimon Peres
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres wants peace talks before a ceasefire is secured

Last year, President Clinton gambled everything on securing a final status agreement - and failed.

Bush administration officials were watching closely and are not going to risk their political lives on that kind of all-or-nothing strategy.

While peace in the Middle East would certainly help America in her war on terrorism, the administration's approach has always been that there is nothing to be gained from trying to force the two sides to reach agreement if they're not prepared to meet themselves.

President Bush referred to "Palestine" during the meeting of the UN General Assembly recently - a first for a modern American president - but then refused to shake Yasser Arafat's hand at a private luncheon afterwards, infuriating the Palestinian leader.

Low expectations

In short, not much is likely to come out of this visit in concrete terms.

Mr Sharon flies from New York to Washington on Sunday and will have a round of meetings with President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday.

On Tuesday he will go to the Pentagon and Capitol Hill.

No doubt Mr Sharon will want to be briefed on the next stage in this war, particularly how America might go after Iraq.

No Israeli has forgotten that when America attacked Iraq in the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein fired missiles at Israel.


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30 Nov 01 | Middle East
28 Nov 01 | Middle East
04 Nov 01 | Middle East
12 Aug 01 | Middle East
29 Nov 01 | Middle East
20 Nov 01 | Middle East
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