For Arafat, a Likely Layover on the Road to Statehood

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The White House is now privately confident that Yasser Arafat won't unilaterally declare a Palestinian state on Sept. 13. He'd threatened to do it by that date if he didn't have a peace agreement with Israel. But Arafat's three-week world tour of the Middle East, Europe and Asia, which he began after the Camp David summit collapsed last month, hasn't been a fun trip. At each stop, foreign leaders have warned him not to count on their support if he declares statehood on his own. Behind the scenes, U.S. diplomats have been conferring with the governments on Arafat's itinerary, pleading with them to discourage a statehood declaration and to press the Palestinian leader to be more flexible on who controls Jerusalem, the hangup at Camp David.

Arafat "seems to be getting the message" that pre-empting a final agreement with Israel would backfire on him, says a senior White House aide, so he's looking for a way to sidestep the Sept. 13 deadline. Meanwhile, Mideast envoy Dennis Ross has flown to the region to gauge prospects for a second U.S. summit with Arafat and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak. Both men have been hinting lately that they want round two.