U.S. seeks to help region in peace talks
NEW YORK -- Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday the Bush administration is sending a "powerful signal" to the world that it seeks a new Middle East where Israel and the Palestinians can live side-by-side in their own states.
Powell said President Bush's remarks to the United Nations on Saturday in support of Palestinian statehood did not really "break new ground," but that the administration soon will follow up with a more explicit outline of its position on the kind of settlement it seeks.
Earlier, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat expressed gratitude for Bush's remarks. "We have to thank him from our hearts," said Arafat.
Bush told the U.N. General Assembly that the United States is "working toward the day when two states -- Israel and Palestine -- live peacefully together within secure and recognized borders as called for by the Security Council resolutions."
Initially, the Bush administration kept its distance from the interrupted peace process, saying it was up to the parties to find their way back to negotiations. But that has changed, with Powell telling reporters, "We are looking for opportunities to be more actively engaged."
Arab governments have been urging the administration to be more aggressive, and their appeal has taken on new urgency as the Bush administration seeks to keep Muslim governments engaged in its war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"It's not a matter of placating or pleasing" Arab governments, Powell said. "It is a matter of going forward and getting the violence down."
He said the timing will be up to the parties. "It cannot be forced," Powell said. "But there is a new urgency."
Besides Arafat, Powell met separately with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa.
Peres, long an advocate of a Palestinian state that would control part of Jerusalem, told Israeli reporters "the most important thing now is to decrease the flames" of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Powell's meeting with al-Sharaa was described as "pretty frank" by a senior administration official.
There was a lot of discussion about what is "a freedom fighter and what is a terrorist," said the official.
The State Department accuses Syria of supporting terrorist groups in southern Lebanon, but those groups view themselves as fighting a guerrilla liberation campaign against Israel.