Bush weighs changes to end 'bipolar' Mideast policy

Thursday, November 11, 2004

WASHINGTON President George Bush is considering a major shakeup in his administration to ensure a unified U.S. policy on the Middle East.

Administration sources said Bush was examining recommendations to replace senior officials before the start of his second term in an effort to avoid the foreign policy split that characterized his administration since 2001. The dispute, which pitted the Defense Department against the State Department, was said to have extended to virtually every aspect of U.S. policy in the Middle East, particularly Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and other senior officials have asserted that the death of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat could mark the biggest foreign policy opportunity for the administration, Middle East Newsline reported. They said Washington must ensure that Arafat is succeeded by a pro-U.S. Palestinian leadership willing to implement democratic reforms.

"There has been a bipolar U.S. foreign policy in which the president has been receiving sharply differing assessments and advice from his most senior aides," an administration source said. "It has disturbed the president and I'm sure he wants this to end before his second term."

The sources identified the three dominant figures in U.S. foreign policy during Bush's second term as Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and White House chief of staff Andrew Card.

The sources said the three senior aides planned to establish a team to examine U.S. foreign policy options during Bush's second term. They said the key issues would largely focus on the Middle East, including the U.S. military presence in Iraq, Iran's nuclear weapons program and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Bush was also expected to appoint an envoy to accelerate U.S. efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, the sources said. They said the envoy would focus on Israel's commitments to the United States for withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank as well as the dismantling of more than 100 unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank.

The presidential envoy, the sources said, would help facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2006. They said the appointment of such an envoy has been urged by both Powell and senior Bush adviser Karl Rove. They said Bush has already pledged to Middle East and European leaders that he would become personally involved in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and establishing a Palestinian state.

"The United States of America will be more than willing to help build the institutions necessary for a free society to emerge, so that the Palestinians can have their own state," Bush said on Wednesday. "The vision is two states, a Palestinian state and Israel, living side by side in peace. And I think we've got a chance to do that. And I look forward to being involved in that process."

The dispute within the administration has been most intense regarding Iraq and Iran. The sources said Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld represented the group that called for U.S. military measures against Iraq, Iran and others deemed as terrorist sponsors. Powell and then-CIA director George Tenet opposed unilateral military action and urged the formation of an international coalition that would employ largely diplomatic and economic means.

Tenet has resigned from the CIA and Powell was expected to announce his departure over the next few weeks.

The Iran nuclear weapons project was expected to become the major strategic challenge for the United States. The sources said the administration has been divided between those who have urged the president to review military options to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities and others who advocate cooperation with the European Union, China and Russia for diplomatic and economic measures to stop Teheran.

The proposed administration team could also recommend whether Bush should retain Rumsfeld for another term. The defense secretary, the oldest member of the administration, has borne the brunt of criticism for the U.S. failure to envision the insurgency war in Iraq as well as find Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

"He's [Bush] thinking about his administration for the future," Rumsfeld said on Nov. 8. "I've met with him two or three times on totally different subjects since the election, but that's not a subject that's come up."

The sources said the White House has not selected a candidate to serve as presidential envoy to the Middle East. But they said the appointee would not be a member of the current administration.

"We recognize that the Middle East peace process is one of the biggest overhangs on our foreign policy and the way in which we are perceived in the world, and we want to do more about that," Powell said in an interview to the Financial Times on Nov. 9. "But we need responsible partners on the Palestinian side."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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