WASHINGTON – President Bush on Tuesday reaffirmed the willingness of the United States to help mediate the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and offered to send retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni back to the region for just such a purpose.
Meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the White House, the president again backed the creation of a Palestinian state provided Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat immediately curb violent attacks on Israel and the Palestinians recognize the right of Israel to exist.
Peace in the Middle East is "only possible if there is a maximum effort to end violence throughout the region, starting with Palestinian efforts to stop attacks on Israelis," Bush said.
Mubarak, for his part, called for an end to forceful Israeli military tactics such as demolishing Palestinian homes and closing roads.
"Nothing can be achieved through violence or resolved by force," the Egyptian said.
Bush also spoke favorably of a Saudi Arabian proposal, which would offer Israel peace, trade and security in exchange for the land the Arabs lost in war, and of Mubarak's offer to be the host for talks between Arafat and Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister.
Israeli officials have said they are eager to go to the Arab kingdom to follow it up with talks, but the Saudis are discouraging such discussions
Asked about that disagreement, Bush came down squarely on Israel's side. He praised the Saudi "vision" of peace and said he supports those who "are trying to look at what it means."
Mubarak, who wants to play a middleman role in peace efforts, criticized only Israel for the current crisis. Bush directed his call for an end to violence to the Palestinians.
"We're both determined to redouble our efforts to work for peace," Bush said, referring to himself and the Egyptian president.
Mubarak said of the Israelis, "The closure of roads, the siege of towns and villages, the demolition of houses, the collective punishment that make progress more difficult should stop."
Speaking of the growing violence, Bush said officials in both the United States and Egypt "view this situation with great alarm."
"We both feel deep sympathy for the people in the region who are trying to live their lives in peace," he said.
In Jerusalem, Israeli officials let it be known Sharon considers a meeting with Arafat useless while Palestinian attacks against Israelis continue. Mubarak said he would not meet with Sharon unless Arafat attended as well.
In a speech before he met with Bush, Mubarak said the United States and Israel must deal with Arafat as the leader of the Palestinian people. "It is a great mistake to think otherwise," he said.
"I have no problems with the Palestinians or the Israelis," Mubarak said, as he sought to put Egypt forward as an evenhanded mediator between the two sides.
But the Arab leader left no doubt about his views of Israel's continued hold on part of the West Bank and Gaza and, presumably, east Jerusalem.
Without referring to Israel directly, he said "land was occupied by force" and an entire population denied its right to nationhood.
Sharon was criticized, meanwhile, by Adel el-Jubeir, adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, who floated the peace proposal.
El-Jubeir said leaders of more than 40 countries support the Saudi proposal, but "Mr. Sharon doesn't support it; half his government doesn't support it." Sharon has not accepted the principle of Israeli withdrawal, the Saudi official said on PBS' NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.
Abdullah has made the price of peace Israel's withdrawal from all of the West Bank, Gaza and part of Jerusalem that Arafat wants as capital of a Palestinian state.
Mubarak said in his speech the aim of peace talks should be to "end the injustice of all the peoples" in the Middle East.
Elaborating, he said the result of the forced occupation of land had been to deny "an entire people its right to a nation."
"Occupation must end," the Egyptian president said to some 1,000 people invited by the private Council on Foreign Relations and the Middle East Institute, a research group. "Palestinians must have their rights. We want an end to the cycle of injustice."
Mubarak carried to Bush a mixed position on terrorism. He said Tuesday "the world community must work together in confronting terror," but he declined to state his position on Iraq.
It is known to be one of urging caution. Mubarak's view is that U.S. stock in the Arab world, already damaged by the Bush administration's implacable support for Israel, would sink further if Iraqis are killed in a U.S. attack.
On another sensitive subject, a senior U.S. official said the Bush administration was taking up with the Egyptians suspicions that Egypt is importing missile technology from North Korea.
Egypt has denied the allegations, but the administration does not appear to be convinced.
In Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a Saudi official said Abdullah had rejected several requests, including one from Mubarak, to meet secretly with Sharon on the proposal.
Nor would the crown prince, Saudi's de facto leader because of the illness of King Fahd, consider a meeting between lower-ranking Israelis and Saudis, according to the Saudi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Abdullah "is well aware of the kingdom's standing in the Islamic and Arab worlds, and he [would] prefer to withdraw his proposal if its success depended on a Saudi-Israeli meeting," the official said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.