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Thursday, 26 April, 2001, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
CIA returns to Mid-East role
CIA Director George Tenet and President Bush
Until Bush's arrival George Tenet and the CIA played a prominent role in the Middle East
By diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

American officials have confirmed that the CIA is once again involved in security talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in an effort to reduce the intensifying violence of the past few months.

The Bush administration suspended the CIA's high profile role when it took office and it is still not clear that American intelligence officers will resume the extensive involvement they had under President Clinton.

The Deputy Director of the CIA, John McLaughlin, said it had been asked by the White House to chair talks between Palestinian and Israeli security officials.

Working for stability

He said the CIA's role was not to negotiate or mediate; it was to provide a venue and invite people to come to meetings, hosted by someone who did not have an axe to grind.

Car bomb in Israel
The violence continues unabated

The Secretary of State, Colin Powell, emphasised earlier that the Americans were working quietly to get the security situation stabilised and violence moving down.

The United States, he said, was deeply engaged at every level.

Three weeks ago, a convoy of senior Palestinian security officials were fired on as they returned home from a meeting with the Israelis chaired by a CIA officer.

Inauspicious start

That was an inauspicious start to the re-entry of the CIA on to the scene.

President Bush initially suspended the agency's involvement as part of his more hands-off approach to Middle East peace negotiations; officials said the Israelis and Palestinians should talk to each other directly.

Now there seems to be a cautious shift back the other way, but there's no evidence that the CIA will resume the remarkably intimate and extensive role it played under Bill Clinton.

That was believed to have included passing messages between the two sides, arbitrating in disputes, and even handing on Israeli intelligence to the Palestinian authorities about the activities of Islamic militants.

Palestinians trained

The CIA was also involved in training Palestinians to help them develop a more professional security operation.

And its Director, George Tenet, who made many visits to the Middle East, attended last October's emergency summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.

The Palestinians valued the relationship highly as a channel of communication with Washington and a counterweight to Israeli influence.

They are reported to have pressed for the CIA's role to be revived.

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See also:

23 Mar 01 | Middle East
CIA's Middle East role changes
07 Jan 01 | Middle East
Violence tops CIA Mid-East agenda
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