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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

PM Sharon in DC - Abdullah and PA ministers en route



Maariv: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon landed today (Tuesday) at 5:30 p.m. Israel time at Washington's Andrews Air Force Base and will be seeing National Security advisor Condoleezza Rice before meeting President Bush on Wednesday.. A meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell is scheduled for Thursday.

Sharon's visit is one of a plethora of calls by Middle Eastern leaders. Yesterday Bush hosted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at his Texas ranch, where the two welcomed Sharon's disrengagement plan but demanded that it be implemented as part of the American-sponsored road map to peace.

King Abdullah of Jordan wiill be arriving in the US capital close on Sharon's heels, as will PA Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and Finance Minister Salam Fayyad. sources close to Sharon said there is no plan to hold a summit meeting of all these leaders in Washington.

Israel expects President Bush to recognize its right for self-defense, so that the IDF can continue its counter-terrorism operations inside the Gaza Strip even after the withdrawal. In addition, Jerusalem hopes Bush will express American opposition to a Palestinian refugee right of return to Israeli territory and declare that Palestinian refugees could only return to a future Palestinian state.

Bush, on the other hand, is expected to demand that Israel’s possible withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will mark the beginning of the implementation of his Road Map program and not an alternative to a West Bank evacuation. The US President will also ask Sharon to insure that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza be coordinated with Egypt and the PA, and allow for the continuation of humanitarian and economic aid to the Palestinians.