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Bush - Moves toward peace must continue

Monday, May 17, 2004

SOUTHERN SHUNEH, Jordan -- Secretary of State Colin Powell came up short in his latest foray into Middle East peacemaking, blocked by Yasser Arafat from reshaping Palestinian security forces and waiting for Ariel Sharon to devise a new plan to pull Israel out of Gaza.

With time running out on President Bush's goal of an independent Palestinian state by 2005, Powell acknowledged Sunday as he headed home from Jordan that even opening negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians was only a remote possibility.

"I don't see how we can get there right away," Powell said in Shannon, Ireland, where his Air Force jetliner refueled en route to Washington.

Still, Powell said, Bush "has made it clear to me to keep going."

In a renewed effort to restore the U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace plan, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice planned to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in Berlin on Monday.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said he hoped their meeting "will be a step toward moving the process forward."

Powell suggested that Palestinian and other Arab leaders should persuade Arafat, symbol of the Palestinian movement for almost four decades, to quit as head of the Palestinian Authority to make way for a successor willing to end terror against Israel.

He counterbalanced criticism of Arafat with a jab at Israel, criticizing long-standing Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes to punish terrorist attacks. Powell said he doubted the tactic enhances Israel's security.

Powell prodded Qureia to "seize the opportunity" provided in an offer by Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to withdraw from Gaza, vacating all Jewish settlers, and to dismantle a few Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Qureia was noncommittal. He told Powell he would wait for Sharon to revise his retrenchment proposal after its rejection by his Likud Party.

But speaking with reporters aboard his airplane, Powell said, "Let us deal with the reality before us, the evacuation of settlements."

Powell urged Qureia on Saturday to do that. Yet Arafat in a speech on Palestinian television read his people a Quranic verse to "find whatever strength you have to terrorize your enemy."

In response, Powell on Sunday blamed Arafat for refusing to put under unified command the multiple and sometimes rival Palestinian security forces. The United States believes this step would give the those forces the power to stop attacks in Israel.

"Mr. Arafat refuses to allow the consolidation of security forces," Powell said at a news conference during an economic conference at Southern Shuneh, a Dead Sea resort in Jordan.

Powell said of Arafat's television appearance, "Mr. Arafat continues to take actions and make statements that make it exceptionally difficult to move forward."

On his homeward flight, Powell said Qureia and Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, who also met with Powell, "have to press Mr. Arafat at this point."

However, he said: "I got nothing to suggest that they are in a position yet to do that. That is something that has to be done if we are to move forward."

"What I need from the Palestinians is for them to get themselves ready to exercise solid political control over Gaza when it's turned back to them and to put in place security forces that can do that," Powell told ABC's "This Week" before he left Jordan.

"What they need to do is to wrest control of the security forces from Chairman Arafat. ... The Palestinian leaders can do it, and the leaders of the Arab world can do it, by saying to Chairman Arafat that your policies have not been successful, your leadership has not be successful in moving this process forward."

In Berlin, Rice said she would tell Qureia the United States is ready to be the Palestinians' partner in building their state, but on the condition that the state would be built on political and economic institutions. Among them, she said in a German television interview, must be security services controlled by an "empowered prime minister" who can use them to fight terror.

Powell was unimpressed by a suggestion by Shaath that the United States influence Israel to join the Palestinians in a cease-fire to stop the killing in Israel and the occupied territories.

"It's easy to say, 'Let's just have a mutual cease-fire.' We've seen these cease-fires before that last a few weeks, and then because there's no security apparatus in place on the Palestinian side to enforce it, any terrorist can come and blow it all up, and we're right back to where we started," Powell said.

Also on ABC, King Abdullah II of Jordan spoke about the broader Middle East tableau. He described U.S. military action in Iraq, meant to spur democracy throughout the region, as "the sideshow ... a secondary issue" to the Palestinians' confrontation with Israel.

"You talk to the overwhelming majority of the Arab population. You ask them: 'What is the most important thing? Democracy? Freedom? Civil liberties?' And every single person will go back to you and say, 'The Israeli-Palestinian war,"' Abdullah said.

On the issue of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi detainees at a prison in Baghdad, Powell said, "We are doing everything we can to deal with the frustration in the Arab world."

Powell sent Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, head of the State Department's Near East desk, to Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco last week to talk about the case.

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