US President George W. Bush told an Israeli journalist that "we must get rid of" Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot daily has reported.
Bush's comments came in a brief exchange with the paper's correspondent during a Christmas drinks party in Washington, several hours after a keynote speech by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Thursday in which he outlined plans for unilateral disengagement from peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
The US government has boycotted Arafat with Bush accusing the veteran leader of failing the Palestinian people. Israel has also shunned the 74-year-old, branding him an absolute obstacle to peace and confining him to his West Bank headquarters for more than two years.
Israel's security cabinet approved Arafat's "removal" in September, with one minister even suggesting that he could be assassinated, but Washington warned Israel not to attempt to expel him.
Bush was non-commital about Sharon's speech, saying that he would wait to see what happened on the ground.
"Speeches are good things, but they are words. I am waiting for action," he was quoted as saying.
"Now is the time to do a lot in the Middle East, and I am determined and committed to doing that. You can be sure that I have done a lot until now, but I am going to keep on doing. I am going to continue to be active and committed to my vision."
© Copyright 2003 AFP