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Background: Mideast Agendas

Spencer Michels reports on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's meeting with President Bush in Washington and a deadly suicide bombing attack.

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    The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has spent the last few days in Washington talking with officials about a new outline for Mideast peace, as well as new allegations aimed at Yasser Arafat.

    Through a spokesman, Sharon said the Palestinian leader should be banned from the proposed international conference on the Mideast planned for this summer. And in a speech last night before the Anti-Defamation League, Sharon made two demands of Arafat and his organization.


    Two things must happen: "A", major institutional structural reform in the Palestinian Authority with regard to the structure, operation, and unification of its security forces, and the restructuring of government institutes with full transparency and accountability. A responsible Palestinian Authority that can advance the cause of peace should not be dependent on the will of one man, and "B," complete cessation of violence, terrorism, and incitement.


    Sharon also gave the audience a sampling of his defiant rhetoric, rejecting a U.N. investigation of Israeli actions against the Palestinians.


    Israeli citizens should not be tried by the world. I don't think that any nation in the world has the right to bring the Israeli citizens and the state of Israeli to court– no one! (Cheers and applause)


    While he thanked his "many friends in the U.S.," Sharon made clear that "when it comes to our security, we have to depend on ourselves."

    During his Washington trip, Sharon's government released documents that it says reveal how terrorists have been financed. One set says Arafat himself approved payments to future suicide bombers, and that some of the funding for terrorists came from European Union donations to the Palestinian Authority. That group said the Israeli documents are forged.

    Other papers, according to Israel, show that the Saudi government gave money to families of suicide bombers, as well as to the radical group Hamas. Saudi Arabia called those charges "baseless."

    The White House has not commented publicly on the documents, but it did make clear it still regards Arafat as the leader of the Palestinian people, even though the President repeated his charge that Arafat "let me down" as far as curbing terrorism. Sharon has not had the diplomatic stage to himself. Administration officials have held parallel meetings with key Arab leaders, including the Saudi foreign minister and the king of Jordan, seeking support for a Mideast conference.

    Late this afternoon, Sharon and President Bush met with reporters before word of the latest suicide bombing in Israel.


    Now, after the last operation that we carried out against the infrastructure of a terror in Samaria and Judea or as you call it the West Bank, I believe that there is a chance now to start and move forward. We discussed these issues, how to move forward. We emphasized about the need for reforms in the Palestinian Authority and I think that's very important.


    And one of the things we've got to make sure that we do is anything… any vision understands that there are people in Israel who long for security and peace, people in the Palestinian world who long for security, peace, and economic hope.


    There was no immediate comment from either Sharon or President Bush about the bombing near Tel Aviv. It was the first suicide attack since April 12. Israeli police said at least 15 people were killed in and around the three-story club.


    And a few minutes ago National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said President Bush offered condolences to Sharon over the suicide bombing. She said the President was disgusted at the wanton taking of innocent life.