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Bush congratulates Sharon on victory

Powell rejects concerns that the U.S. will take a less active role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations  

WASHINGTON (CNN) - U.S. President George W. Bush called Ariel Sharon on Tuesday and congratulated him on his election victory shortly after incumbent Ehud Barak conceded defeat in the Israeli prime ministerial election.

Bush told Sharon he looked forward to working with him on peace issues, the White House said.

"The president told Prime Minister-elect Sharon he looked forward to working with him, especially with regard to advancing peace and stability in the region," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "He also extended best wishes to losing Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who had worked closely with former President Clinton.

  • Sharon claims victory in Israeli election

    Earlier Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell urged restraint in the Middle East following Tuesday's Israeli prime ministerial election.

    Speaking to reporters following a meeting with British Foreign Minister Robin Cook, Powell urged leaders in the region "to refrain from any acts that would lead to violence.

    "This is a time to be patient" Powell said, stressing the importance of giving the next Israeli leader "an opportunity to decide what kind of a government will be formed."

    Powell acknowledged the United States can do little else but encourage the region to remain calm.

    "As a practical matter, that is pretty much all we can do right now, and hope that the leaders in the region recognize the absolute importance in controlling the passions and controlling the emotions," he said. "If they do that and if they give the next Israeli government time to establish its policies then, good things will flow from that besides just jawboning."

    Powell rejected as unfounded concerns that the United States would take a less active role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

    "Whoever wins that election, the United States stands ready to be engaged in the quest for peace," he said, adding that "during this very, very delicate time immediately following the election, we do nothing."

    Powell stresses 'regional context' for peace

    Powell also suggested the Bush administration had much broader objectives in the Middle East, and would consult a wide range of Arab allies in the region as it develops its policy.

    U.S. officials have suggested the Bush administration is interested in spending more time on issues such as nuclear proliferation in Iran and reducing the threat Iraq's President Saddam Hussein poses.

    "We want to be sure that the search for peace ... is seen in a broad regional context so that the quest doesn't stand alone in and of itself," Powell said, adding "obviously an increase in violence affects a number of issues throughout the region.

    Powell said a reduction of violence in the Middle East would boost economic activity in the West Bank and Gaza. Such "confidence-building measures," he said, could jump-start the peace process

    "When people can earn a living again ... then you have a basis for moving forward," he said.

    Powell's comments came following a meeting with Cook, who echoed Powell's call for calm and called for a multilateral approach toward the peace process.

    "Whoever is chosen as the prime minister of Israel ... we will respect their choice," Cook said. "All we ask of whoever is chosen is that they work with the international community to take forward negotiations.

    Urging "close contact" between the United States and the United Kingdom, Cook said the Mideast peace process would succeed only if the parties in the region are "receiving the same message from both sides of the Atlantic and from the rest of the international community."

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    February 4, 2001
    Blow for Barak as Rabbis back Sharon
    February 4, 2001
    Barak: 'Fate of Israel' at stake in election
    February 1, 2001
    Barak refuses to stand aside
    January 31, 2001

    Israeli Prime Minister's Office
    Knesset, The Israeli Parliament
    Meretz Party
    Avoda (Labour) Party
    Palestinian National Authority
    PLO Negotiations Affairs Department

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