Bush urges 'decisive action' by Palestinians
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon headed home Sunday after discussing with President Bush how both sides could impel the Palestinian Authority to arrest those responsible for suicide bomb attacks this weekend in Jerusalem and Haifa, Israel, senior officials said.
The hour-long meeting took place in the Oval Office on Sunday, one day earlier than previously planned after both leaders shuffled their schedules following the weekend violence in Israel.
In the meeting, Bush condemed the attacks and pledged to "intensify" U.S. counter-terrorism cooperation with Israel, officials said. The president also demanded that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat arrest those responsible and take "decisive action" against militant groups such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
"If Chairman Arafat is going to be a leader, it's time to step up," said Sean McCormack, spokesman for the National Security Council.
Bush told Sharon no cause justified such brutal attacks, McCormack said, adding that this weekend's carnage only reinforced U.S. determination to "eliminate the scourge of terrorism everywhere it exists."
Before the meeting, Bush criticized militant Palestinians for trying to torpedo peace negotiations.
"Clearly there are some who will take any chance to use violence and terror they have to disrupt the progress that is being made," the president said. "We must not allow them to succeed. We must not allow terror to destroy the chance for peace."
The Bush administration has not lobbied against Israeli military retaliation. Secretary of State Colin Powell said only that Sharon "is a freely elected leader of a democratic nation, and he will respond in a way that he thinks appropriate."
The White House has consistently declined to endorse Israel's call for seven days of complete calm in the region, emphasizing the need for the Palestinians to show "100 percent effort" to end the violence. But the Bush administration also rejects the Palestinians' call for an immediate move to substantive negotiations.
The White House contends the report of a committee headed by ex-U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, which both sides have embraced, first calls for increased security cooperation and a rebuilding of confidence among Palestinians and Israelis that violence will decline dramatically. Without a unified effort to quell violence, the Bush White House sees no prospects for credible or fruitful political negotiations, senior officials said.
"There's a logic to the approach that is worthy of maintaining," said a senior Bush official. "There have to be security talks. The Israeli police and security forces and the Palestinian security forces have to be working together."
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