Powell to meet today with Israeli, Palestinian leaders

Friday, June 20, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan -- Secretary of State Colin Powell will seek to rejuvenate Middle East peace efforts through meetings Friday with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

He said Thursday in advance that both sides had made a good start toward fulfilling a U.S.-backed peace plan despite continuing violence.

Speaking to reporters while flying to Jordan, Powell said there were hopeful signs after violent attacks that claimed lives on both sides after the U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian summit meeting in Aqaba on June 5.

As evidence, Powell cited talks between the parties about transferring responsibility for security in northern Gaza from Israeli to Palestinian forces.

"They are talking seriously and not talking past one another," Powell said. "I think that's progress."

Powell, who arrived here late Thursday night after a brief visit to Bangladesh, had tentative plans for a Friday morning meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and an afternoon encounter with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

"It's not anything special," Powell said. "It's an opportunity to go in the region since I am in Jordan and get a status report."

Powell's main purpose for being in the region was to attend a meeting of the World Economic Conference in Jordan on Sunday.

He said it was unrealistic to expect that President Bush's "road map" peace plan would have achieved significant results by now since special envoy John Wolf has only been in the region five or six days.

"By Middle East standards, not a lot of time has passed since Aqaba," Powell said.

If the two sides manage to create "a few footholds" and start to build confidence and trust, "then we should be able to move rather quickly," Powell said.

Key to the whole process, he said, is building up the capability of the Palestinian Authority security forces as quickly as possible. As a first step toward curbing violence against Israelis, militant Palestinian groups must agree to a truce and then their terrorist capabilities must be eliminated, steps that should be carried out in sequence, he said.

"If you're going to start a train going in the other direction, the first thing you have to do is stop it," Powell said.

On the issue of targeted killings, Powell defended Israel's right to go after "ticking bombs" -- situations in which "they know something is coming and can do something about and keep a bomb from going off."

But, he added, "if you expand that circle out to targets that are not ticking bombs, then I think you're in a different judgment call. You can take somebody out but have you improved chances to get away from this whole environment of strike and counter-strike?"

Abbas has been encouraging Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups to halt all attacks against Israel. Hamas official Abu Shanab has insisted the group has a right to target Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank.

But he also said the group's leaders did not rule out the possibility of stopping the attacks. "We are examining the idea," he said.

Powell began his day Thursday by winding up a 36-hour visit to Cambodia, where he attended a meeting of Asia/Pacific leaders. He then made a three-hour visit to Bangladesh to show support for one of the few countries that has a Muslim majority population and is committed to democracy.

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