Mid-level official to attend Arafat funeral for U.S.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

WASHINGTON The United States has decided to send a mid-level representative to the funeral of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Officials said President George Bush has agreed to U.S. representation at Arafat's funeral. They said the State Department was granted authority to decide who would be sent to the funeral, expected to take place in Cairo on Nov. 12.

"There will probably be a mid-level representative at Arafat's funeral," a State Department official said. "The official could be Assistant Secretary of State William Burns."

Since 2001, Burns has been responsible for the State Department's policy on the Middle East. He has not met Arafat during most of Bush's first term in office, Middle East Newsline reported.

U.S. government analysts have regarded Arafat as the main financier of the Palestinian insurgency against Israel, which led to the killing of at least a dozen Americans, including U.S. embassy personnel. But over the last decade Arafat has not been cited as a terrorist or terrorist financier by the United States.

"The death of Yasser Arafat is a significant moment in Palestinian history," a White House statement said. "For the Palestinian people, we hope that the future will bring peace and the fulfillment of their aspirations for an independent, democratic Palestine that is at peace with its neighbors."

Officials said National Security Council analysts recommended that Bush limit U.S. representation at Arafat's funeral to the level of ambassador. On the other hand, the State Department was said to have urged Secretary of State Colin Powell to consider accepting an invitation to the funeral.

Powell was urged by PA International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath to attend Arafat's funeral, officials said. They quoted Powell as replying that the issue would be examined.

Officials said Arafat's death could spark renewed attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East. On Thursday, the State Department issued an advisory for U.S. nationals in the Middle East to take precautions.

So far, the State Department has not said who would represent the United States at Arafat's funeral. But department spokesman Richard Boucher did not deny that a U.S. envoy would attend.

"I don't think we know exactly what arrangements will be made and therefore, we can't decide who might represent the United States," Boucher said on Wednesday before the announcement of Arafat's death. "But I'm certain that we'll express ourselves appropriately at the time."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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