Bush to tell Sharon no to expansion

President George Bush has said he will tell Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon privately what he has been saying publicly: There can be no expansion of Jewish settlements under the US-backed Middle East peace plan.

    Israel wants to build 3500 homes in the West Bank

    "You bet," Bush said on Friday when asked if he would raise the issue

    on Monday when he meets with Sharon at his Texas ranch.

    "What I say publicly, I say privately," Bush said

    aboard Air Force One as he returned from Pope John Paul II's

    funeral. "And that is the road map has clear obligations on

    settlements, and that we expect the prime minister to adhere to

    those road map obligations."

    Israeli officials have sought to reassure Washington about

    plans to build 3500 homes between the major West Bank

    settlement of Maale Adumim and Jerusalem. The proposal has

    angered Palestinian leaders, who warn it could derail peace

    talks.

    US concerns

    While senior US officials have expressed concerns about

    the Maale Adumim project, Bush stopped short of criticising it

    directly and praised Sharon.

    "I will be talking to the prime minister about the need to

    work with the Palestinian government ... to facilitate success,

    to enhance success"

    George Bush,
    US president

    "The prime minister of Israel has decided to pull out of

    Gaza," he said. "I applauded that decision at the White House,

    with him standing by my side. And I think now is the time to

    focus the world's attention on what is possible."

    Bush pointed out that the Palestinians also had obligations

    under the peace plan and urged all sides to cooperate,

    saying: "We have a great opportunity - 'we,' the world, has a

    great opportunity to help a democracy grow, begin and grow,

    starting in the Gaza.

    "I will be talking to the prime minister about the need to

    work with the Palestinian government to facilitate success,

    to enhance success," he said.

    Pressing for sacrifices

    The settlement issue threatened to be the only sticking

    point in talks between Bush and Sharon at the president's ranch

    in Crawford.

    Bush says he has made his
    position clear to Sharon (L)

    "My position is clear," said Bush, who has pledged to press

    Israel to make sacrifices to bolster peace talks after the

    death of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat.

    Palestinians fear the Maale Adumim project will cut them

    off from the eastern part of the city they want as the

    capital of a future state.

    Sharon thinks an extension of Israel's biggest

    settlement, home to 30,000 people, is in line with Bush's

    assurance to him last year that the Jewish state could expect to

    keep some large settlement blocs under a final peace accord.

    Bush, who has made Middle East peace a top second-term

    priority, has endorsed Sharon's plan to evacuate all 21 Jewish

    settlements in the Gaza Strip and four of 120 in the West Bank,

    a pullout now scheduled to begin on 20 July.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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