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After Iraq, More Interventions

US Vows to Deal with Other Mideast Regimes

by ALUF BENN

A communique received in Jerusalem from the American administration this week says the United States is operating with strong resolution to neutralize the Iraqi threat to Israel. After the war, the message continued, the United States will deal with other radical regimes in the region–not necessarily by military means–to moderate their activities and fight terrorism.

These current and future U.S. operations will also serve Israel, the American administration says, but have caused tensions between the United States and the Arab world. Israel, the American message says, must play its part to help ease these tensions by taking action with regard to settlements in the territories.

The message from Washington adds that the current U.S. administration has no illusions about peace and a return to the political process, merely a realistic view of how to manage the conflict.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will meet on Sunday with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who returned yesterday from a visit to the United States, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to discuss Israel’s position on the international "road map" for a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians.

The three will also discuss the recent U.S. communique, which speaks of the importance of dealing with the settlements as a means of bolstering U.S. standing in the region.

The heads of the U.S. administration chose not to raise the issue of the settlements in their meetings with Shalom this week. Israeli sources believe the Americans made an effort to ensure the success of the foreign minister’s first visit to Washington in his current capacity with the purpose of creating a solid foundation for future talks with him.

The principal issue discussed in Shalom’s meetings in Washington was the appointment of Abu Mazen as Palestinian Authority prime minister and the importance of Israel taking steps to ensure his success in the position. As is the case in Jerusalem, Washington is not convinced of Abu Mazen’s ability to take real powers out of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat’s hands. Nor does it know if Abu Mazen will be able to impose his will on the elements of power and terror organizations on the Palestinian side.

However, the Americans do expect that Israel will not get in his way and will help Abu Mazen in any way that it can. They reminded Shalom that Abu Mazen’s appointment as prime minister suited the U.S. strategy regarding a change in the Palestinian leadership.

Shalom’s hosts–President George Bush, Vice-President Richard Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Powell–did not raise any specific demands for specific steps on the part of Israel. These were passed on in advance of the visit via diplomatic channels and included expectations for the removal of roadblocks and checkpoints in the territories, entrance into Israel for Palestinian workers, the accelerated release of Palestinian funds held by Israel, the evacuation of illegal outposts and the toning down of statements made by Israeli public figures.

The foreign minister reminded his American interlocutors that all of Israel’s past efforts to ease the humanitarian distress in the territories had paved the way for more terror attacks. Shalom stressed Israel’s demand that the process be conducted in a reciprocal manner, beginning with steps by the Palestinians to prevent terror and implement government reforms. Thereafter, Shalom told the Americans, Israel would play its part.

He made it clear that Israel was not prepared for a parallel process of mutual steps. The Americans made an effort to convince Shalom that the road map represented an opportunity for progress, sat well with the interests of both the United States and Israel, and that there was no cause to reopen the issue for discussion and amendment.

Political sources in Jerusalem said they had been encouraged by Powell’s speech to his European counterparts in Brussels yesterday in which he said that the United States would do all in its power to preserve the road map unchanged, but that everyone should understand that the plan would be meaningless if it wasn’t accepted by both sides.

ALUF BENN writes for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.

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