WASHINGTON, June 5 (JTA) — CIA Director George Tenet is returning to the Middle East and a role he played frequently in the Clinton administration, as the facilitator of security talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Tenet’s departure for the region, announced Tuesday, comes as both Israelis and Palestinians are hewing to separate cease-fire declarations on the heels of some of the deadliest violence since tensions flared last fall.
“We believe enough progress has been made on the cease-fire that it is time to send George Tenet to the Middle East to start serious discussions at the security level about how to make sure the cease-fire continues,” President Bush said Tuesday.
Tenet was due to arrive in the region on Wednesday.
The State Department said Tenet will have separate security meetings with the Israelis and Palestinians, but would not say whether he will facilitate a joint meeting.
Tenet will also be in contact with William Burns, assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, who is also working in the region in an attempt to end the violence.
“We believe that Director Tenet has an ability in this circumstance to help the parties coordinate, to help encourage further coordination,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday. “And for us, he has the ability to go out and take a good assessment of the situation and what needs to be done and how we can move forward to make sure that, in fact, it does endure.”
Tenet was a key participant in last July’s Camp David peace talks, coordinating security meetings between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. But early into Bush’s administration, Tenet was relieved of his Middle East duties.
A State Department official said the United States removed Tenet earlier this year because the Israelis and Palestinians were using the security meetings to blame each other for the violence.
Tenet’s return was contingent on both sides agreeing that their senior officials would be present and they would be willing to engage in meaningful dialogue.
“We need to come in with a constructive dialogue,” said the official. “There is a real opportunity to build and we’re not going to miss this opportunity.”
Last fall, Tenet was hammering out details of a final status security arrangement. This time around, he will be assessing the situation and encouraging both sides to take additional steps to “move things forward,” Boucher said.
“There’s a different situation on the ground,” he said. “And we have made clear all along from the very beginning that we intended to work with the current situation and the current leaders to try to achieve an end to the violence, an easing of the pressures, a return to normal life and a return to negotiations.”