Israeli President Urges Bush to Put Squeeze on Arafat

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Israeli President Moshe Katzav said Thursday that he urged President Bush to increase the pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to call for an end to more than eight months of violence in the Middle East.

"I believe that Yasser Arafat has the ability to stop the violence, to stop the terrorism," Katzav told reporters in the White House driveway following his first meeting with Bush. "I believe that Yasser Arafat controls the situation. And I believe that my expression in this matter didn't surprise [Bush]."

Later, Katzav told Israeli reporters that he urged Bush to set a deadline for ending the violence, according to participants in the meeting. He said Bush called the suggestion "an interesting idea" but made no commitment.

Katzav did not say how he expected the U.S. administration to enforce such an ultimatum if it chose to issue one.

The White House did not comment on the 20-minute Oval Office meeting with Katzav, whose post is primarily ceremonial.

The Israeli president said he was impressed with Bush's grasp of Middle East issues.

"President Bush knows all the details," Katzav said. "He [is] engaged, I believe, enough in this matter, and he has several ideas how to handle this conflict."

He said Bush did not call for additional restraint on the part of the Israeli government. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has accused Israel of using excessive force in its effort to put down the 8-month-old Palestinian uprising, but Katzav said there was no hint of such criticism from Bush.

"I am glad to hear that the strong friendship between the United States and Israel is a cornerstone between us, and I came out from this conversation indeed very, very satisfied," Katzav said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Powell reiterated his call to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for "restraint and de-escalation" in military actions against the Palestinians. Boucher said Powell discussed the situation with Sharon and Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority, by telephone Wednesday.

"In both phone calls, he expressed his concern about the recent violence," Boucher said. "He asked the parties to restore effective security cooperation as a means of starting the process to implement the Mitchell committee recommendations that are designed to end the violence, restore confidence and resume negotiations."

Boucher was referring to an international commission headed by former Sen. George J. Mitchell (D-Maine), which recently called for both sides to end their participation in the violence.

Katzav, who arrived in Washington on Tuesday, conferred with members of Congress and other Bush administration officials before his White House meeting. During his visit to the U.S. capital, he received an honorary degree at George Washington University.

Katzav will visit Los Angeles next week to meet with state and local officials, attend a World Affairs Council luncheon and visit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

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