Sharon Heads to Capitol Hill

One day after meeting with President Bush to solidify U.S. support against a timetable for a Palestinian state, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with leaders on Capitol Hill to thank them for their support for Israel.

"I enjoyed visiting you, and would like to thank you so much for your solidarity and backing and the support and understanding," Sharon told Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., after a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Biden responded that congressional support for Israel is unconditional.

"We support Israel. Period," he said.

Sharon's visit on Capitol Hill came as another bomber detonated an explosive in Tel Aviv, blowing himself up and injuring nine others.

Sharon was in the United States seeking support for Israel's demand that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat clean up corruption in his government and cease terrorist aggression by Palestinians before any discussion of statehood occurs.

At the White House Monday, Bush agreed, adding the time is not yet ripe for a Middle East peace conference proposed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and supported by Arab leaders.

"We're not ready to lay down a specific calendar,'' he said. "The conditions aren't even there yet. That's because no one has confidence in the emerging Palestinian government."

On Tuesday, Sharon told congressional leaders that he admired the United States and aspired to the same goals: defeating terrorism and living in peace.

"We look with admiration at this country, and at the courageous decision to fight terror," Sharon told reporters before a meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. "We have been struggling against terror for many, many years. We know that one cannot get into any compromise with terror."

"Israel, as you know, is a peace-seeking country and I hope that there are all the possibilities to reach peace. We are committed to peace, and I hope that I will be able to help in providing this peace," he added.

This is Sharon's third visit to the Congress and sixth meeting with President Bush in little more than a year. An Israeli aide said Sharon achieved his goal during this visit of seeking assurances that the United States would not impose a deadline or move too fast toward a peace process.

"We achieved what we wanted,'' a senior official in the Israeli party said.

The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Israel's refusal to withdraw to its 1967 borders, as demanded by a U.N. Security Council resolution after the Six-Day War, or U.S. dislike of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were not discussed in Monday's meeting with the president.

He also said that Israel would not have been as successful in its political relations with the United States without assistance from Congress. He cited a recent resolution of support for Israel signed by 94 senators and 321 representatives as proof that relations are strong.

On Sharon's last visit, in May, he had to cancel scheduled meetings with congressional leaders and rush home in response to a Palestinian suicide bombing that killed 15 Israelis.

Unable to meet face-to-face, Sharon held conference calls with various committee chairmen and other major congressional supporters and now speaks to them on average every couple of days, the official said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.