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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Questions Arafat's Leadership

ST. PETERSBURG -- U.S. President George W. Bush said Sunday that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat had let his people down but the United States still hopes he can deliver on pledges to reform.

Bush's comments came after The New York Times reported on its web site Sunday that the U.S. administration was seriously debating whether to seek the Palestinian leader's removal, and that the debate was holding up Middle East policy initiatives.

"He [Arafat] has let the Palestinian people down. He hasn't delivered," Bush told reporters in St. Petersburg on the final day of a four-day summit with President Vladimir Putin.

"He had a chance to secure the peace. ... He didn't. He had a chance to fight terrorism, and he hasn't.

"Evidently there's a new attitude among some of the Palestinian leadership, and we'll see if he can deliver," Bush said.

"People are beginning to question out loud as to why there has not been success."

The New York Times report said intense internal discussion of whether to continue to rely on Arafat at the moment or seek his ousting had effectively frozen U.S. Middle East policy, delaying a planned visit to the region by Central Intelligence Agency chief George Tenet.

Bush said he still intended to send Tenet, but would not say when the visit would take place.

The New York Times report quoted U.S. officials as saying the delay gave U.S. policymakers a chance to assess whether Arafat was responding to Palestinian demands for reform and fulfilling pledges to tighten security and reduce corruption.

"What we need to do is develop the institutions necessary for there to be a responsible Palestinian state," Bush said.

Bush's advisers have long been divided over what to do about Arafat.

Some, such as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, argue that the United States must deal with Arafat because, like it or not, he remains the Palestinian leader.

Others, such as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, want to sever ties with Arafat or at least help engineer a change in leadership.

White House aides said Sunday the president hopes to encourage Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab nations -- as well as those inside Arafat's circle -- to either push Arafat harder or force changes around him.