Bush to Urge Abbas Not to Join Unity Gov't Unless It Meets Quartet Terms

Shmuel Rosner (Washington), Shlomo Shamir (New York)
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Shmuel Rosner (Washington), Shlomo Shamir (New York)

President George W. Bush is expected to press Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting tonight not to join a national unity government with Hamas if it does not accept the three conditions posed by the international Quartet - the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. The American administration wants to continue bolstering Abbas, but at this stage it has not announced a new policy regarding the PA and is waiting until the new PA government has been formed.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who is in New York with the president, told reporters before dawn on Tuesday that the question of whether Hamas would agree to meet the Quartet's demands is "the 64 million dollar question." Hadley called Abbas one of the "voices of moderation" and said that the U.S. supports him and "would continue to work with him."

The Americans have held energetic talks on the Palestinian issue in the past few days, both within the administration and with Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. In their public statement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and officials in her office repeatedly underscored the Quartet's conditions for Hamas: recognizing Israel, renouncing terrorism and accepting previous agreements.

The Quartet itself is scheduled to convene tomorrow in New York to discuss the developments in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, and this subject is also on the agenda of the UN Security Council.

Rice met with Abbas yesterday in New York and presented him with American concerns regarding the new government he is forming.

Sources in the U.S. have emphasized in recent days that the administration wants to resume moving forward in the Palestinian arena, but said it is too early to say how that will be done so long as the identity of the partner on the Palestinian side has not been clarified.

Israel last week expressed cautious willingness to hand over in the near future one or two West Bank towns to the presidential security force under Abbas' control - if it turns out that this force is capable of maintaining order. The presidential security force was built and trained by the U.S. security coordinator for the region, Lieutenant General Keith W. Dayton, and the Americans want it to serve as a counterweight to the other security forces controlled by the Hamas government.

Foreign Minister Livni met with Abbas before dawn Tuesday at UN headquarters in New York. Livni later described the meeting as "good and very important" and said it had included "important content on the immediate level and for the long term."

Speaking to Israeli reporters after the meeting, Livni said that she had demanded the immediate release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

"This was not a one-time meeting," Livni added, saying that further talks were agreed upon, including a meeting to be scheduled between Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Livni emphasized to Abbas that the terms posed by the Quartet as a prerequisite to recognizing the Hamas government remain in effect vis-a-vis possible changes in the Palestinian regime.

"I do not deal in forming coalitions outside of Israel," Livni said. "The international community set three terms that are not open to negotiation or interpretation."

Livni also raised the subject of Shalit in her meeting Monday evening with her Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit. The Egyptian foreign minister told Livni that it is evident to all concerned that the Shalit affair must be resolved quickly in order to move ahead on other matters. After the meeting, Aboul Gheit told reporters that he is optimistic regarding Shalit's release and believes "it will be over soon."

Relatives of the two soldiers kidnapped to Lebanon, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, are currently in New York and will attend several of Livni's meetings with foreign ministers and leaders of various countries. Goldwasser's wife, Karnit, attended Livni's meeting with the president of Finland, Tarja Halonen, whose country currently holds the presidency of the European Union.

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