(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met this afternoon with US Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) and US Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT).
Prime Minister Sharon thanked the senators for their friendship towards, and support for, Israel and said that he was pleased to meet them again after their recent meetings in Washington. The Prime Minister thanked Senator Frist for the letter he received from him in which the latter commended Israel’s assistance in the Palestinian Authority (PA) elections and for the steps that Israel is taking to implement the disengagement.
Prime Minister Sharon said that Israel appreciates the support that it receives from both houses of the US Congress and added that Israel would like to receive Congress’s blessing for US assistance towards the development of the Negev and the Galilee.
Prime Minister Sharon said that despite domestic difficulties, he remains committed to implementing the Disengagement Plan and added that it would be implemented on schedule: “This is a painful step that Israel has yet to undertake. Feelings in Israel are harsh, there are many demonstrations, there is great tension and there are various attempts to oppose the move.”
Prime Minister Sharon said that since the election of Abu Mazen a long series of steps has been taken to help him in establishing and stabilizing his rule and in order to win the support of the Palestinian street. Israel has done this out of the sense that with Abu Mazen it is possible to make progress. We helped him during Arafat’s funeral, we helped him hold proper PA elections, including the participation of residents of eastern Jerusalem and we reached a series of understandings with him that led to the Sharm el-Sheikh summit. Despite this, terrorism has not ceased and an IDF soldier was killed this morning.
Prime Minister Sharon added that he believes that Abu Mazen’s path is incorrect and contravenes the Roadmap. Instead of disbanding the terrorist organizations, he is acting to strengthen them. He is not willing to fight them and is similarly unwilling to disband their infrastructures. The Prime Minister said that while Abu Mazen is taking steps to maintain the quiet, he is completely avoiding taking significant steps to fight the terrorist organizations.
Prime Minister Sharon said that Israel wants to coordinate the Disengagement Plan with the Palestinians and make certain that the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is coordinated, without terrorism, and that Israeli property is transferred to the responsibility of the PA, which would use it to serve the welfare of the Palestinian population. The Prime Minister said that he had charged Vice Premier Shimon Peres with the responsibility of raising funds in order to assist Palestinian economic recovery after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The Prime Minister added that significant talks on this issue had begun only recently.
On the Lebanese issue, Prime Minister Sharon said that after the May elections, it will be important to increase stability and reduce the influence of Syria, Hezbollah and other foreign elements, and emphasized that strengthening the Lebanese government would lead to stability and the weakening of Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon. The Prime Minister said that Hezbollah continues to pose a threat and cause instability on the Israeli-Lebanese border. Hezbollah is also strengthening its presence in the Gaza Strip and among Israeli Arabs, and is encouraging acts of terrorism inside Israel in order to end the “calm” and torpedo the diplomatic process. It is also training and financing Palestinian terrorist organizations, mainly Fatah elements, and there are plans to kidnap Israeli soldiers.
On the Iranian issue, Prime Minister Sharon said that the most effective way of dealing with the subject is to exhaust diplomatic channels and to create a united international coalition in order to present a unified front and move the issue to the UN Security Council. The UN Security Council is the most effective way of applying diplomatic pressure on Iran. Economic and social sanctions should be placed on Iran in order to pressure the regime. The Prime Minister said that if steps are not taken soon, Iran will possess nuclear weapons and added that in order to advance its nuclear program, Iran is playing for time in the context of its long-term negotiations with Europe. The time for European-Iranian negotiations must be limited since Iran is interested in using these negotiations to legitimize its enrichment efforts, under guarantees and supervision, and thus continue its program.