Tenet departs Mideast without accord


CIA Director George Tenet is suspending his high-profile Mideast mission without an accord between Israel and the Palestinians to extend their shaky cease-fire.

“It’s time to come home,” a U.S. official said Tuesday.

Israel had accepted Tenet’s proposal for maintaining the cease-fire and going on to “confidence-building” measures, but the Palestinians withheld their approval.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described Tenet’s mission as a work in progress. He said the Central Intelligence Agency director had not given up on it.

Another U.S. official said Tenet felt the two sides had dealt with the issues responsibly and that the talks had not broken down but that he had decided to take a break.

Tenet had presented a detailed paper to the two sides on how to strengthen the cease-fire and move from it to tentative steps toward a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The U.S.-led peace drive had attracted international support. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is due to visit the region along with Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

Working in concert with William Burns, a veteran American diplomat, the Bush administration sought to extend the cease-fire without any preconditions. But preliminary discussions were held with the two sides on ways to move further along what Secretary of State Colin Powell calls a “timeline” toward new peace talks.

Powell, traveling in Europe with President George W. Bush, scheduled a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in Brussels, Belgium, Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, Bush has backed off a campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and will keep it in Tel Aviv, at least for now.

While the president remains committed to starting a process to move the embassy to Jerusalem, which Israel considers its capital, the mission will stay put, the administration said Monday.

The location of the embassy is a sensitive issue in efforts to negotiate peace in the Middle East, where close to 500 Palestinians and Israelis have died since violence flared anew in late September.

During his campaign, Bush promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem, an act that would lend support to Israeli claims to the city as its undivided capital. Palestinians insist part of Jerusalem should be the capital of a Palestinian state.

When former President Bill Clinton first ran in 1992, he, too, advocated moving the embassy from Tel Aviv. Clinton never acted on the promise, even though Congress several times tried to force his hand by approving money for the move. He said the embassy would change conditions for negotiations committed to be both sides to determine the city’s future.

Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which authorized the embassy’s relocation, but left the final decision to the White House. Citing national security considerations, Bush notified Powell on Monday that he was extending an administrative ban on the move for another six months.