Jerusalem bombs fail to stop Albright

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The Independent Online
Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, is to go ahead with her planned Middle East tour next week, despite yesterday's suicide bombs in Jerusalem.

Stressing that the United States would not be diverted from its peace efforts in the region, President Bill Clinton said: "It is clear the perpetrators of this attack intended to kill both innocent people and the peace process itself. They must not be allowed to succeed."

He again called on Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority to "do all it can to create an environment that leaves no doubt that terror will not be tolerated."

Mr Clinton said the bombs, which killed eight people and injured more than 150, made it all the more urgent to revive the peace process and he said this was the message that Mrs Albright would emphasise during her visit. She is due to leave Washington on Tuesday for her first visit to the region as Secretary of State and her first official visit to Israel.

The decision not to cancel or postpone the visit represents a shift in Washington's tactics. Until recently, US officials had insisted that the Secretary of State would only visit the region when there was likely to be significant progress iin the peace process. However, her delay in going to Israel had aroused criticism from Jewish groups, who complained that the administration was starting to distance itself from the region.

Last week, however, in the middle of President Clinton's holiday, the Secretary of State's visit was suddenly announced, even though Mr Ross had returned without apparently identifying any signs of progress in relations between Israel and the Palestinian authorities.

Mr Ross's own visit had been postponed for a month after a suicide bombing in Jerusalem which was similar to the one that occurred yesterday. Officially, it was said the visit had been delayed to allow for an appropriate period of mourning in Israel, but it was also considered unlikely that he would be able to bring the two sides any closer together in the wake of the attack.

Although US officials yesterday declined to draw parallels between the two Jerusalem attacks or speculate on any Arab motive connected with any planned US diplomatic moves, Mr Clinton's unambiguous statement that Mrs Albright would still be setting off for the Middle East sends the clear signal that Washington will not allow its efforts to be frustrated.

This also appears to be Israel's wish. The Israeli ambassador to the United States gave a television interview shortly after the bomb attacks were reported, saying he hoped the visit would proceed and placing the blame squarely on Mr Arafat. He said the Palestinian leader had not used "his very effective security services" to clamp down on the Hamas grouping.

With a few signs of life shortly before the last terrorist attack in Jerusalem, the peace process has been virtually moribund since the beginning of the year.

An agreement was reached shortly before Mr Ross's visit that would bring in American observers to monitor Israeli and Palestinian security arrangements. The US also called for accelerated progress towards fulfilling the later stages of the Oslo accords, that would involve discussion of the status of Jerusalem. This followed a proposal along similar lines made by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. It is still not clear how far this indicated progress being made behind the scenes and how far it was window-dressing intended to disguise a stalemate.