WASHINGTON – U.S. officials deplored the fresh violence Sunday in the Middle East and would not rule out the possibility that President Bush might soon meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for the first time.
Both leaders are expected to be in New York in a few weeks when the U.N. General Assembly meets.
While Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon twice has visited the White House, Arafat has yet to be invited.
"The president has said he will meet with people when it's necessary to meet with people to advance the cause, but at this point in time there are no plans to meet with Yasser Arafat in New York," the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said on NBC's Meet the Press.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said it was a decision that Secretary of State Colin Powell and Bush will be considering.
"You always want to do what you can to try to stop violence in a region like that and get people talking again," Rumsfeld said on Fox News Sunday.
Asked whether he thought Bush should meet with Arafat, Rumsfeld replied: "I don't know. It depends on what takes place, and it depends on what the private discussions indicate might bear fruit. But the United States has to do what we're doing. We have to try to work with the people in the region to see if we can't reduce that."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle sidestepped the question of whether Bush should invite Arafat to the White House. "I will say that greater dialogue is essential. We've got to insert ourselves. We've got to pick up where we left off in the last administration. That's the only way you're going to see any resolution here," Daschle, D-S.D., said on ABC's This Week.
In the latest violence, Palestinian militants launched attacks Sunday that included a suicide bomber who detonated his explosives as passengers were getting off a crowded train in a northern coastal Israeli town. Four people were killed, including the bomber, was more than 30 were wounded.
The surge of violence, which also included retaliatory missile strikes by Israeli helicopters, threw into question possible truce talks aimed at ending more than 11 months of Mideast violence.
"The violence against innocent civilians is really senseless and it just shouldn't continue and were working every day with the parties to try and lower the level of violence," Rice said.
"We have in fact received recently new assurances from the Palestinian Authority that they are trying to stop the violence,but we're waiting to see," she said. "We believe they can do more and that they really do need to do more."
Rumsfeld said it was not clear to him that Arafat "controls every aspect of what takes place" by the Palestinians. "But there's no question but that the terrorist acts and the killings that are taking place there and the responses to those terrorist acts are creating a very difficult situation in the Middle East."
As for Israeli retaliation, Rumsfeld said: "I think that any time people are doing suicide bombings and blowing up your people at bus stops and in restaurants, you certainly cannot sit there and tolerate that."
Rice said the Bush administration wants to get peace plans by CIA Director George Tenet and the commission established by former Sen. George Mitchell back on track, but needs the cooperation of both sides.
"Until you can get to a situation in which there is less violence and in which terrorism has been removed from the picture, it's going to be very hard, but we're working on it every day," she said.