CIA Chief Seeks to Strengthen Palestinian Security Forces

CIA Director George Tenet is making a secrecy-shrouded visit to the Middle East to try to rebuild Palestinian security forces that were badly mauled during Israel's recent anti-terror campaign on the West Bank. 

Except for Tenet's Friday departure, details were not disclosed for security reasons, including even his precise destination. 

President Bush stressed on Thursday a need for a Palestinian police presence "that actually keeps security in the region." 

Tenet was to have left on his mission earlier in the spring, but Israeli officials questioned the utility of any such initiative as long as Yasser Arafat remained in charge of Palestinian security forces. 

The CIA chief visited the region a year ago and won agreement on Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation. 

The agreement produced scant results, however, and Israeli forces eventually moved against Palestinian militants in the West Bank to curb violence rather than rely on Arafat's security forces to deal with the problem. 

In the process, the ability of these forces to do their job was severely diminished. Palestinian police were among those killed or captured by the Israelis. 

The Bush administration is placing high priority on overhauling and upgrading Palestinian forces and on resuming security cooperation between the two sides. 

State Department officials expect Tenet to be able to build on his work of a year ago, department spokesman Richard Boucher said Thursday. 

The administration is moving on a number of fronts in hopes of promoting peace and stability in the region. 

It is trying to develop Palestinian institutions to ensure good governance once a Palestinian state is established. 

Bush stressed the need for a system capable of countering corruption. 

"One of the things that worries us is spending international aid on an authority that might not keep good books, that the money might not actually go to help the Palestinian people, but might end up in somebody's pocket," Bush said. "That concerns us." 

The administration also sees a role for Israel's neighbors. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns met Thursday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Egypt's capital, and Mubarak will meet with Bush next week at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. The administration sees Mubarak's support as crucial for the success of the U.S. initiatives. 

Burns' itinerary also includes Syria and Lebanon. He will urge leaders in those countries to curb attacks on Israel by Hezbollah, a Lebanese group considered a terrorist organization by the State Department.