Ariel Sharon, the Israeli war hero and champion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza, says the Bush administration is going at peacemaking in the Middle East the wrong way.
"The first thing that should be done is to bring Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to the table of negotiations and sign with them a peace agreement," Sharon said Wednesday in an interview."We don't have any common border with them. We don't have any territorial conflict with them. That would create a different atmosphere in the Middle East."
The ex-general with the hawkish reputation said Saudi Arabia and Kuwait could come to terms with Israel far more readily than the front-line Arab states.
"I believe in a peace plan that would bring peace," Sharon said. "The most important thing is to try and have an entirely different atmosphere, and this should be the first step."
As Israel's housing minister, Sharon was in Washington for a meeting with Jack Kemp, the U.S. secretary of housing and urban development.
They met for an hour at the Israeli embassy and, according to Sharon, discussed the influx of Soviet Jews to Israel.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III, in a "heads-up message" last week from the Middle East, recommended to the White House that Kemp not receive Sharon in his HUD office.
Baker's spokeswoman, Margaret D. Tutwiler, said Sharon was an opponent of the administration's policies and "we did not feel at this time it was an appropriate thing to do."
Sharon, at a news conference later, declined to discuss Baker's message. But in the Associated Press interview in his hotel suite, he questioned the reasoning behind Baker's advice to the White House.
"If you ask me if it's a good thing not to listen to opinions of people, I think it's a mistake," Sharon said.