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ARAFAT TOO BUSY FOR SIGHTSEEING ON U.S. TOUR

SHARE ARAFAT TOO BUSY FOR SIGHTSEEING ON U.S. TOUR

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat didn't do much sightseeing in his first trip to America's heartland. He couldn't fit it in during a day that included meetings with two former presidents, Jewish leaders and United Nations officials.

Former President Carter had wanted Arafat to "mix and mingle" with townsfolk during his visit Wednesday to Plains, Ga., and talk about "peanuts and cotton and pine trees."But they didn't have time after Arafat's jet mistakenly landed at an airport near Atlanta, about 120 miles north of Plains and the nearby Americus airport.

Carter later joked about the mixup in Plains when he appeared with Arafat, who picked up the key to the city of about 700.

"It's easy to confuse Atlanta with Americus," Carter quipped. "The only one on the plane who knew they were landing in too big a city was President Arafat."

Running three hours behind, Arafat just dashed in and out of Plains so he wouldn't miss meeting with former President Bush in Houston and a speech at Rice University.

Both Carter and Bush criticized Israel before Arafat left Houston and headed to Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Carter said the United States should encourage Israel to negotiate with Arafat, adding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policies have harmed the peace process.

"I don't think there's any doubt it has moved backwards since he was elected," Carter said.

Bush said he agreed with President Clinton, who said that Israel's decision to build Jewish housing in the Arab sector of Jerusalem "builds mistrust."

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, Netanyahu struggled Thursday to reach agreement with senior Cabinet ministers on the scope of the next Israeli troop withdrawal in the West Bank.

Under the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords, Israel must complete the pullback by Friday. But the accords are vague as to how much Israel must withdraw.