Freeze settlements – Abbas appeals to Bush

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PALESTINIAN president Mahmud Abbas is set to meet US president George Bush in Washington this Thursday for an urgent summit.

The Palestinians said this is ‘to seek clarification’ from the Americans about their intentions regarding the ‘roadmap’ peace plan and also about their pledged financial and political support to the Palestinians.

Abbas has been engaged in a frantic round of visits and summits over the past week as Israeli military attacks on Palestine continue; and both he and Sharon will be in the US this week for talks with Bush.

However, they will not be in the same meeting. Instead, Sharon is there already for separate talks with Bush which took place yesterday but Abbas will not be there until May 26th

Speaking in Egypt at the weekend, where he was talking with president Hosni Mubarak, Abbas announced that he would be meeting with Ariel Sharon on June 7th.

However, Sharon’s aides denied a date had been set or plans finalised.

‘The prime minister’s bureau is interested in setting up such a meeting but no such meeting has been set for that date or any other date,’ David Baker, an official in Sharon’s office, said.

Palestinian response to the Israeli denial was swift. A senior Palestinian official travelling with Abbas said: ‘Sharon’s office called to request a summit . . . if they want another date, they should call us back.’

And Abbas’ top security adviser Jibril al-Rajoub, said, ‘Meeting Sharon is not Abu Mazen’s (Abbas’s) life dream, but he will not object to such a meeting to pave the way for the resumption of the peace process and implementation of the roadmap.’

The Palestinian President arrived in the West Bank city of Ramallah from Egypt on Saturday, wrapping up less than a two-week South American and Asian tour ahead of his sheduled meeting with Bush, where, he asserted, he would be demanding ‘strong political and financial support’ and an explanation of how Washington intends to pursue Middle East peace after Israel’s intended pullout from the Gaza Strip.

‘We will ask Bush for a clear American position over the implementation of the (UN-adopted) roadmap after the (Israeli) withdrawal from Gaza.

‘We are going to demand two basic things: The first is political support and the second is economic support,’ Abbas said.

He is expected to ask Bush to intensify US pressure on Israel to freeze West Bank settlement expansion and to stop building its Apartheid Wall on occupied Palestinian land, a key Israeli obligation under the peace plan.

The US Congress recently approved a $275 million financial aid package ‘to help bolster’ the Palestinians’ ailing economy and ‘rehabilitate’ their shattered security forces – but this ‘aid’ is to be channelled through Israel and NGOs.

Congress is also ‘expected to consider’ an additional $160 million in aid next year, said Sylvana Foa, spokeswoman for the US Agency for International Development.

For the last fortnight Abbas has been involved in a gruelling round of summits and meetings all over the world, ending up in Egypt last Saturday for talks with president Hosni Mubarak, following an Asian tour in Japan, China, Pakistan and India after visiting Chile earlier and attending the Arab-South American summit in Brazil on May 10-11.

His tour saw Asian pledges of financial aid and political support.

Last Friday, India announced aid worth $15m to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) for developmental projects, including construction of schools and hospitals, and during Abbas’ two-day visit to New Delhi Indian officials reiterated support for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

The Palestinian leader met Indian President Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders in the Indian capital, including the president of the ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi.

‘India has supported the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to a state and the imperative need for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region,’ foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said.

Abbas arrived in New Delhi from a one-day visit to Pakistan, where he had held talks with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf promised support and said Pakistan is and has always been a loyal ally to the Palestinian people.

Speaking to Pakistani journalists, Abbas said ‘We hope that President Musharraf will put his political weight behind efforts for a just resolution’ to the Palestinian – Israeli conflict.

‘We believe that as America and Europe and other nations are helping us to reactivate the peace process, so too can Pakistan play a greater role,’ Abbas said.

During a three-day visit to China, Abbas held talks with both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

According to the Chinese media, Wen told Abbas: ‘China and Palestine should further strengthen inter-governmental economic cooperation and implement agreements on economic and technical cooperation.

‘The two countries should expand human resources development and training. China is willing to help Palestine nurture even more expert talent,’ he said.

Abbas and Hu witnessed the signing of five agreements on economic, trade and technological cooperation.

And Hu said the Chinese government and its people supports the ‘just cause’ of Palestinians, adding that the way to establish an independent Palestinian state is to conduct political negotiations on UN resolutions, and resume the ‘roadmap’ peace plan.

Abbas had told the state-run Xinhua news agency in an interview prior to his arrival in Beijing that he hoped China could contribute more to settling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

‘As a great country with principles and a long history which holds a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, China can play a bigger and more important role in the Middle East peace process,’ he said.

The Chinese media also commented that in the past few years, China has sent its special envoy Wang Shijie to the Middle East several times in an effort to move forward the peace process.

China established diplomatic relations with the PNA in 1988, but ‘has had strong and longstanding relations with the Palestine Liberation Organisation’ (PLO).

Ahead of Abbas’ visit, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan said: ‘As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has always followed (Middle East developments) closely and tried to seek lasting peace in the Middle East.’

Abbas arrived in Beijing from Tokyo, where he had secured a pledge to provide $100 million in aid.

Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura and Abbas have agreed to hold bilateral ministerial meetings mainly about Japan’s aid to the Palestinians.

The first round of the ministerial talks is to take place sometime after the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections planned for this summer.

Foreign ministers from both sides will discuss Japan’s fresh direct aid of 100 million US dollars that the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi promised during a summit with Abbas last week.

During his visit, Abbas indicated the possibility of upgrading a diplomatic mission in Tokyo into an embassy.