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Farrakhan to visit the Middle East

By GREGORY TEJEDA

CHICAGO, April 2 (UPI) -- Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan blasted Washington for foreign policies that single out Muslims for blame and said Tuesday he wants to travel to the Middle East to try to resolve the differences between Israelis and Muslims.

Farrakhan said the escalation in violent incidents by Palestinians against Israelis was due to the lack of action by the United States and the United Nations to show leadership and try to build peace to the region.

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"This is the time for strong, dispassionate intervention by America and the United Nations," he said during a 33-minute address at Mosque Maryam on Chicago's South Side. "If they don't, conditions will continue to escalate to the point of no return."

Farrakhan said he would like to lead a group of religious leaders to Israel to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, and other officials.

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"It will take a spiritual people to try to bring peace to the region," Farrakhan said. "If we fail, at least we can say we have tried."

Farrakhan said he believes President Bush shows too much support to Israel, meeting repeatedly with Sharon while demonizing Arafat.

"That diminishes (Arafat) in the eyes of his people," Farrakhan said. "An impotent Arafat only encourages the more militant elements to conduct more suicide bombings."

He said the United States ought to pressure Israel into making gestures of support to Arafat. Those gestures could include promises to halt settlement of the West Bank, and to stop slayings of Palestinian leaders.

"A recognition of the right (of Palestinians) to exist could become the basis for serious peace negotiations. Instead, Israel gives nothing, but demands everything," he said.

Farrakhan said he believes that "because I am not tied to the American establishment," he could have more influence in negotiating peace.

"I believe only a spiritual person can truly achieve peace," he said.

Farrakhan said he wants to meet with members of Hamas and Hezbollah, the religious factions that have claimed responsibility for violence and bombings.

"I want to hear it from their own lips why they do what they do," Farrakhan said.

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But he said he hoped U.S. officials would not construe his actions as giving comfort to an enemy. "I want to meet with the so-called 'Axis of Evil,' but I am not going to incite people against my country," he said.

Farrakhan would like to make his visit in May, although he admits the trip has not been scheduled yet.

Last weekend, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said he has no intention of trying to lead peace negotiations, although he concedes someone needs to take such a diplomatic mission.

Throughout the years, Farrakhan has gained a reputation among many white people as an anti-Semite who opposes Israel and all Jewish people.

On Tuesday, Farrakhan tried to tone down any anti-Jewish rhetoric, saying he can understand the religious basis for believing that God promised the Jewish people a homeland. But he also said he understands the reasons why Arabs believe the existence of Israel is coming at their expense.

"It is a huge theological problem," Farrakhan said of the differing opinions. "I believe we are capable of rising above the emotions of both sides, but it will take time."

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