Arafat ‘Blesses’ Abbas - Bush Meeting
Arafat ‘Blesses’ Abbas - Bush Meeting in Washington July 25
Norway Rebuffs Sharon’s Request to Boycott Palestinian Leader
President Yasser Arafat fully authorized Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas’ meeting with the US President Bush in Washington on July 25 and chaired a meeting of the Higher Committee of Negotiations (HCN) in his battered headquarters in Ramallah, hours before Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) surrounded the presidential compound early Thursday, as the Palestinian PM denied that a date has been set for a meeting with Israel’s counterpart Ariel Sharon.
A large number of IOF troops deployed early Thursday around President Arafat’s battered HQ in the West Bank city of Ramallah, occupied strategic adjacent buildings and took positions on their roofs, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.
A senior Israeli official, speaking on the plane carrying PM Sharon back to Israel from UK and Norway, said Sharon’s European trip had allowed British and Norwegian leaders “to have a better idea of the extent of Arafat's harmful influence.”
The official told AFP that Israel does not plan to allow the Palestinian leader to move about freely, as he “causes less damage when he is held in his headquarters in Ramallah and so he will stay there.”
Both Britain and Norway rebuffed Sharon’s request for their governments to follow the suit of Israel and the US and boycott Arafat.
“We certainly meet with those we want to meet with. We shall not be told who we can meet with. No way we are going to change our policy,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen told AFP.
Earlier Arafat “fully authorized” Abbas’s Washington trip, which had the Palestinian leader’s “complete blessing,” Palestinian MP and former chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said Wednesday.
PM Abbas’ office confirmed his meeting with the US President George W. Bush on July 25 in Washington.
The US invitation to Abbas was first made on June 28 during a visit to the region by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Abbas and Israeli PM Sharon met with Bush at the Jordanian resort of Aqaba on June 4 when the “roadmap” plan for peace was launched.
Sharon is expected in Washington for talks with Bush late July.
Abbas’s first visit to Washington is expected to give a major push forward to the peace process.
“The prime minister is going to go Washington on July 25 where he will meet President Bush,” a Palestinian official told AFP.
“This visit will be centered on the commitments made by Israel to freeze settlements in the progress in the peace process,” he added Wednesday.
Arafat on Wednesday chaired a meeting of the Palestinian Higher Committee of Negotiations, which was attended by PM Abbas and the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) Ahmad Qurei.
The HCN “discussed the progress of negotiations with the Israeli side and took the appropriate decisions to accelerate the Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian cities, and the release of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails,” WAFA reported.
Meanwhile PM Mahmud Abbas’ office denied Wednesday that a date has been set for a meeting between the Palestinian premier and Sharon.
Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik told reporters after meeting Sharon in the West Norwegian port of Molde that the Israeli PM would meet Abbas Sunday.
“A meeting will not take place Sunday. A date has not yet been set,” a Palestinian official at Abbas’ office told Reuters.