WASHINGTON – The Bush administration accused Iran, Iraq and Syria of fomenting terror while it urged Yasser Arafat on Monday to ban suicide attacks on Israel.
Israel, meanwhile, was advised to "carefully consider the consequences" of its military thrust into Ramallah.
The multifaceted message emerged after President Bush met at the White House with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and, by video linkup, Vice President Dick Cheney.
There were different shadings of emphasis, though, from the various parts of the administration.
Bush focused on Arafat, demanding the Palestinian leader denounce terror. The State Department delivered a more evenhanded lecture to Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld offered a searing indictment of Iran, Iraq and Syria as supporters of a terrorist "war on civilization."
The clear overall aim, however, was to register U.S. resolve against terrorists who have subjected Israel to the deadliest, most unrelenting series of bombings in its difficult 54-year history.
Without offering a judgment on Israel's method of retaliation, Rumsfeld suggested the United States would take stern measures under similar circumstances.
"When the United States is hit by terrorist attacks, you have a choice. You can say, `Gee, that's too bad,' or you can go try to find the terrorists and do something about it," Rumsfeld said.
"We cannot afford as a country to not seek out the terrorists and the countries that harbor terrorists," he said.
Bush appealed to Arafat to order an end to the assaults on Israel and on settlers and soldiers on the West Bank. Suicide bombing in the name of religion is nothing but terror, he said.
"There will never be peace so long as there is terror, and all of us must fight terror," Bush said. "I'd like to see Chairman Arafat denounce the terrorist activities that are taking place, the constant attacks."
In a gentler vein, Bush urged Sharon to "keep a pathway to peace open" while protecting his nation and said he believed the prime minister remained committed to plans the United States is pushing for a lasting cease-fire and other steps toward peace.
Responding to a growing and bipartisan clamor from members of Congress that he intervene more directly in the crisis, Bush said his critics "must have not been with me in Crawford when I was on the phone all morning long" talking to leaders in the region. The president spent the Easter weekend at his ranch at Crawford, Texas.
Evidently, dispatching Powell to the region as suggested Sunday by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., was not an option at the White House, and Rumsfeld ruled out sending U.S. troops as peacekeepers.
"I don't know of anything like that, nor does Secretary Powell," he said.
However, Rumsfeld said, small numbers of U.S. monitors could be sent there to oversee a cease-fire.
Powell telephoned Arafat and Sharon on Saturday; spoke Sunday to Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, whose government currently holds the presidency of the European Union; Javier Solana, the union's foreign policy chief; Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres; and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw; and telephoned Japanese Foreign Minister Yuriko Kawaguchi, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Sharon again on Monday.
At the State Department, a noticeable difference of tone was evident.
"Terror will never advance Palestinian political aspirations," deputy spokesman Philip Reeker said. Palestinian leaders must act now against those responsible, he said, and make clear to the Palestinian people that terror and violence must stop.
Reeker also aimed remarks at Sharon's military thrust into Ramallah, where Arafat is trapped inside his West Bank headquarters.
"We're gravely concerned at the situation in Ramallah and other areas where Israeli forces are moving. We deplore the killing and wounding of innocent Palestinians. And we urge Israel to use maximum restraint to avoid harm to civilians and permit access for humanitarian services," Reeker said.
"We call upon Prime Minister Sharon to carefully consider the consequences of those actions and to keep open a pathway for peace."
At the Pentagon, meanwhile, Rumsfeld tore into Iran, Iraq and Syria for support they have given for years to groups whose assaults on Israel are now accelerating.
"Murderers are not martyrs," Rumsfeld said. "Targeting civilians is immoral, whatever the excuse. Terrorist have declared war on civilization, and states like Iran, Iraq and Syria are inspiring and financing a culture of political murder and suicide bombing."
The defense secretary said the point of his declaration was "to make it clear to sponsors and supporters of terrorists that being a friend to terrorists, and by implication an adversary of the United States, is not in their best interest."
Rumsfeld specifically accused Iran and Syria of funneling arms to Lebanon for use by terrorists and criticized Iraq for offering payments of up to $25,000 to families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
All three are among seven countries long listed by the State Department as sponsors of terrorism, although Syria has full diplomatic relations with the United States.