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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK
US policy change carries risks
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By Jon Leyne
BBC Washington correspondent

Under intense pressure at home and abroad, President Bush has finally taken decisive action to intervene in the Middle East.

Terror must be stopped. No nation can negotiate with terrorists, for there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death

George W Bush
This is a major change of policy that carries many risks for the president.

In his speech in the White House Rose Garden, Mr Bush began with the usual calls on Yasser Arafat to control terrorism.

"Terror must be stopped. No nation can negotiate with terrorists, for there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death."

But Mr Bush went on to demand for the first time that the Israeli Government should begin withdrawing its forces from the Palestinian cities recently occupied.

"I speak as a committed friend of Israel," he insisted. "I speak out of a concern for its long-term security, the security that will come with a genuine peace."

'Collision course'

But the president went much further than just calling for a ceasefire. He outlined a vision of the future of the Middle East.

Yasser Arafat
Bush's speech contained what look like ominous words for Arafat

That vision includes the most explicit calls to date for a viable Palestinian state and more pressure on the Israeli Government to stop settlement activity.

"Israel should also show a respect, a respect for and concern about the dignity of the Palestinian people who are and will be their neighbours," he urged.

Those demands present a major challenge to the government of Ariel Sharon. They could set Israel and the United States on a collision course.

Final warning to Arafat

President Bush's speech also contained what look like ominous words for Yasser Arafat.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Powell will spearhead the major new US initiative

"As Israel steps back, responsible Palestinian leaders and Israel's Arab leaders must step forward... I expect better leadership and I expect results."

That will be read, in some quarters, as a final warning to the Palestinian leader.

The immediate question is whether that final warning will be delivered, in person, by Colin Powell next week.

Already the Israelis have announced that the US envoy, Anthony Zinni, is to be allowed to visit Mr Arafat.

But even if the Israelis are agreeable, the secretary of state would still have to explain why he can meet Mr Arafat when the vice-president ruled it out a couple of weeks ago.

Nevertheless, after days and weeks of internal battles within his administration, the president has finally laid out an ambitious new agenda for the Middle East, that answers many of his critics.

The challenge now is how much political capital he is willing to spend to achieve these goals.

It is an ambitious agenda that puts President Bush on a potential collision course both with the Israeli Government and with hardliners within his own administration.

See also:

04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bush intervenes in Mid-East crisis
04 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair 'appalled' by Mid East violence
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
EU team meets Israeli leaders
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
US sends mixed signals on Mid-East
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Arafat under attack
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel considers exiling Arafat
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