Sharansky's Quiet Role: What Pushed Bush to Demand That Arafat Must Go? Part of the Answer Lies on a Forest Path in Colorado

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Byline: Dan Ephron and Tamara Lipper

Natan Sharansky, onetime Soviet dissident and now an Israeli cabinet minister, had been hammering at the same themes for years in lectures and private meetings with U.S. officials: peace would never be possible without democracy. Suddenly something clicked at a conference of conservative heavyweights in Beaver Creek, Colo., last month. Vice President Dick Cheney was there, taking notes. So was Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy Defense secretary. The two Americans had been working with others on a major Middle East policy speech for the president, and though they had both met Sharansky many times before, his address struck a chord. Dump the region's dictators, and make democracy a precondition for peace. "It was pretty much the talk of the conference," says Richard Perle, an influential Pentagon adviser who helped bring Sharansky to the forum. Two days later President George W. Bush announced the United States was fed up with the Palestinian leadership and effectively ended the era of American engagement with Arafat.

Score one for Sharansky and his crusade to alter the course of American diplomacy. Bush's speech, possibly the most significant Middle East policy announcement by the United States in a decade, was hardly his doing alone. Arafat fatigue in the Bush administration had been on the rise at least since January, when U.S. officials believe the Palestinian leader lied to Bush about an arms shipment from Iran. Israeli intelligence kept up a steady stream of information linking Arafat to the financing of suicide attacks. By the time Cheney and other delegates arrived at the June 20 conference, Bush advisers had been working on the address for weeks and written nearly 30 drafts, according to one official. Sharansky may have strengthened the resolve of officials who argued against wording that would keep lines open to Arafat. …