|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-314517 Bush-Sharon Mideast (L-only)
INTRO: President Bush will meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House April 14th for a critical meeting on Mr. Sharon's plans for removing Israeli settlements from the Gaza strip. The White House announced that Mr. Bush will also meet next month with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
TEXT: The President's meeting with Mr. Sharon, under preparation for several weeks, will be the key session in an intense series of personal consultations by Mr. Bush with Middle East leaders aimed at restoring some momentum to regional peace efforts.
The flurry of meetings will begin April 12th with a visit by Egypt's President Mubarak to the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas. Mr. Sharon will visit Mr. Bush at the White House two days later, and Jordan's King Abdullah will follow on April 21st.
The focus of all three meetings is expected to be Mr. Sharon's announced plan for "disengagement" from the Palestinians and whether that effort - to begin with Israel vacating most of its settlements in Gaza - will advance or impede the stalled peace process.
Next week, a trio of senior Bush administration officials will make a third trip to the region since mid-February to discuss the Sharon plan and its implications for the West Bank and for Israel's controversial security barrier in that area.
Announcement of the talks with the Middle East leaders came only a day after the United States' veto of a U-N Security Council draft resolution condemning Israel's killing last Monday in Gaza of Palestinian cleric Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, leader of the militant group Hamas.
The U-S veto had drawn widespread criticism from Arab and other Muslim countries around the world.
But the action was defended Friday by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who said the resolution's Arab backers rejected numerous U-S proposals to amend the measure so that it also condemned acts of terror against Israelis by Hamas:
We felt that this resolution was silent about the terrorist atrocities committed by Hamas. It didn't reflect the realities of the conflict in the Middle East. And it wouldn't further the goals of peace and security in the region, and those were the kinds of things that we suggested needed to be changed in the resolution.
The resolution was supported by 11 countries including its sponsor, Algeria, while Britain, Germany and Romania abstained.
It condemned what was termed the "extra-judicial execution" of the Hamas leader and the six other Palestinians killed in the Israeli air strike.
In last-minute negotiations it was amended to include a general condemnation of attacks against civilians but it fell short of the U-S insistence on an explicit rebuke for Hamas.
After the March 22nd attack, the Bush administration said it was "deeply troubled" by the targeted killing and urged both sides to respond with restraint. (Signed)
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