A week after President George Bush’s speech, a sharp dispute came to light on Tuesday between the US and EU, Russian and UN representatives over the issue of boycotting Yasser Arafat.

In a meeting between Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns and representatives of the “quartet” — an international collaboration of the US, Russia, Europe and the UN to find a solution to the Middle East conflict — the former announced that that the administration’s stand on Arafat is unequivocal: the US would continue to work for the PA to have a source of authority other than Yasser Arafat.

Burns asked that European, Russian and UN representatives follow the US administration’s example and avoid meeting with Arafat. However, “quartet” representatives rejected this request and announced that they would not boycott Arafat and would continue to maintain contact with him. The EU representative said that preparations must be made for the possibility that Arafat would win the elections that will be held in the Palestinian Authority and it is inconceivable that there be a break between him and the international community.

American sources said after the meeting that the US will continue to work to persuade all sides that there is no possibility of making progress as long as Arafat continues to head the Palestinian Authority. The administration is to decide in the next few days how to implement President Bush’s speech. Among other things, the question of whether to send Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet to the region to help promote the reforms and examine the possibility of convening an international conference, will be decided.

Yossi Bar adds from Rome: In an interview to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said: Arafat made two mistakes, he supported terror and he lied to Bush. She said that the Palestinians need a leader who is capable of leading the people to make reforms.

This ran in the July 4, 2002 issue of Yediot Ahronot