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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Sharon steps up diplomacy
Ariel Sharon (left) meets Colin Powell
It will be Sharon's fifth meeting with Bush in a year
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By Paul Reynolds
BBC Middle East analyst
line
President Bush meets Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House on Tuesday.

Mr Sharon is due to present his own plan, while Mr Bush will lay out American proposals for a Middle East conference.

President Bush has not yet, at least, been convinced by the Israeli attack on Mr Arafat

As the Israeli leader's military offensive on the West Bank winds down, so his diplomatic offensive is increasing momentum.

In advance of the meeting, he has again been criticising Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Undermining Saudis

His aim in Washington appears to be to marginalise Yasser Arafat in American policy - though so far he has not succeeded in doing this.

In a speech in New York he called for radical changes in the Palestinian Authority, which, he said, should not be "dependent on the will of one man".
George W. Bush
Bush's confidence in the Palestinian leader is fragile

He has been presenting the Americans with evidence which, he says, links Mr Arafat to terrorism.

He is also trying to undermine Saudi Arabia, whose proposals for a settlement leading to a state of Palestine alongside Israel have attracted the Bush Administration.

Based on documents captured during their West Bank operations, the Israelis are accusing the Saudis of giving money to the families of suicide bombers.

Haggling over diplomacy

President Bush has not yet, at least, been convinced by the Israeli attack on Mr Arafat, though his own confidence in the Palestinian leader is fragile.

He has again declared about Mr Arafat that "he must lead".

The formal position remains - as the White House spokesman puts it - that Chairman Arafat is the "representative of the Palestinian people" and therefore must be dealt with.
Protesters gather outside a Washington hotel where Mr Sharon spoke
Bush plans to urge Sharon to enter serious political talks with the Palestinians, officials say

As for the American proposal for a Middle East conference, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud said after meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell that his government needed to know more about what such a meeting might do, before agreeing to go.

So the bargaining has begun about the terms for future diplomacy.

Mr Sharon's other aim in Washington - to get money to build a security fence around much of the West Bank - indicates an alternative scenario; that conflict will continue while diplomacy falters.

See also:

05 May 02 | Middle East
US criticises Arafat's leadership
03 May 02 | Middle East
Q&A: Middle East peace conference
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