U.S. official: Peace effort aimed at lessening Arab, EU pressure

Date: 05-10-07

By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz Correspondent

U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams on Thursday told a group of Jewish Republicans that the efforts the United States is now investing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is aimed at lessening the pressure from ?Arabs and the Europeans, who weren?t happy with the United States? in its past approach.

Abrams was quoted by sources present at the meeting as saying Arab and European states want ?to see that there's at least an attempt or energy? being exerted by the U.S. to move the peace process forward.

Abrams explained that the talks are sometimes not more than "process for the sake of process."

The comments were made during a breakfast meeting of a forum of Jewish Republicans directed by Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia, chief deputy minority whip.

Some of the attendees understood Abrams' comments as an assurance that the peace initiative promoted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice doesn?t have the full backing of President George W. Bush.

?He was basically telling us that he [the president] will not let it go out of hand,? one of them said.

Abrams has long been seen by Americans and Israelis as the more skeptical member of the team responsible for Middle East diplomacy.

About two weeks ago, Haaretz reported that ?Rice even has to contend with skeptics within the ranks of her own department, most notably Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams, who holds the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio in the White House. Israeli Foreign Ministry sources say that Abrams believes her plan will likely fail.?

However, people close to Abrams say that it is wrong to portray him as someone who is not in tune with Rice.

The National Security Council, in a statement released Thursday, claimed that "It is inaccurate to suggest that the White House and State Department are at odds on this issue, for the entire administration - including Mr. Abrams - is committed to pursuing it and the rest of the President's agenda."

A Washington diplomat commenting on Abrams' remarks told Haaretz that ?it might make him uncomfortable because of the tone, but he really didn?t say anything new.?

The diplomat pointed to comments made by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni during a visit to Washington two weeks ago, that ?we should negotiate because it?s better than sit and do nothing.?

This is, the diplomat said, the same ?approach expressed by Abrams. There are reasons to negotiate even if you don?t expect a lasting peace to come out of it.?


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