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Sharon offers to travel to Beirut to hear Saudi plan

In an interview to The Washington Post published Saturday, Sharon said he told the Americans that he is interested in attending the Arab summit and has asked the United States to intervene in his favor.

»I suggested I‹ll go to Beirut to talk to the Arabs directly about what might be achieved,« the prime minister said in his interview. »I would welcome an American initiative to advance such a move.«

Sharon told the paper that he intends to present the Arab leaders with his own peace plan, which »comprised of three stages.«

The first stage would be a cease-fire as defined by the Tenet plan and the implementation of the Mitchell recommendations. The second stage would consist of a »long-term interim agreement granting the Palestinians territorial contiguity without naming final borders.«

The final stage would be the establishment of final borders to be »determined by the future relations between Israel and the Palestinians and in the spirit of UN resolutions... 242 and 338.«

A senior political source said Saturday that Sharon initially made the suggestion during talks with U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney earlier this week.

»Sharon said that he was ready to go to the Arab summit in Beirut to present Israel‹s views on the Saudi proposals. It is important the Arab states hear Israel‹s views,« the source said.

»Cheney took note of it... but there has been no answer from the Americans,«the source added.

Asked if Israel would give permission for Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to attend the summit, the prime minister said that Israel has »not yet decided whether to let him go.«

MK and former justice minister Yossi Beilin (Labor) criticized Sharon‹s proposal Saturday, accusing the prime minister of using a »cynical and transparent« move to avoid dealing with the true issues.

A senior Palestinian official said Saturday that the suggestion was provocative.

By Aluf Benn and Daniel Sobelman, Ha`aretz Correspondents, Ha`aretz Service and Agencies