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U.S. reaches out to EU on Mideast peace after Arafat
Updated: 2004-11-09 09:17

The Bush administration is reaching out to European allies for a possible new push for peace in the Middle East if Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is replaced by more moderate leaders, U.S. and diplomatic sources said on Monday.

A senior Bush administration official said U.S. and EU officials met on Friday at the White House to discuss efforts to revive the "road map" peace plan and how the death of Arafat, who is critically ill in a French military hospital, would change "the realities in the region."

White House officials played down the session, which was not made public until Monday. But diplomatic sources said it was a sign of growing trans-Atlantic coordination, which has been marred in the past by differences over whether to negotiate with Arafat.

The United States has long pressed European governments to sideline the Palestinian leader, whom Israel and Washington accuses of fomenting anti-Israel violence, an allegation he denies.

Friday's meeting was attended by French, German, British and other European Union officials and came one day after President Bush promised to push in a second term to revive Middle East peace talks.

One diplomatic source called it a "brain-storming" session to "coordinate and exchange views," adding, "there was no conclusion."

But the road map is expected to be a major focus of talks this week between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been prodding his American ally to make the Middle East peace process a higher priority.

"If Arafat dies, there will be new realities in the Middle East and it is incumbent on the United States to recognize and be prepared to respond to those new realities," a senior Bush administration official said.

Officials said Washington's response would depend on who takes over for Arafat. General elections for president of the Palestinian Authority would be held 60 days after Arafat's death according to Palestinian law.

The Bush administration has also signaled a willingness to increase U.S. economic ties with the Palestinian Authority once leaders it sees as more accountable are in place.

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