Powell talks about Mideast peace conference, minus Arafat
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
JERUSALEM -- Secretary of State Colin Powell on Monday embraced the idea of an international conference aimed at stopping Middle East violence and restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Sidestepping a clash with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who wants to exclude Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Powell said the meeting might be held at the foreign minister level. \But European and Arab leaders said any such conference needs Arafat's presence to be effective.
"It's a way to get the parties together and talking," Powell said on the ninth day of a peace mission that has made little progress so far.
Pressing on, Powell will meet today with Sharon for a third time and is making arrangements to visit Arafat for a second time Wednesday in his battered Ramallah headquarters, U.S. officials said.
Sharon suggested the international conference to Powell at their meeting in Tel Aviv on Sunday, though Sharon objected to including Arafat.
Powell said the United States would not necessarily be host for such a conference and that Arafat could send high-level Palestinian officials to represent him if talks were held at the foreign minister level.
"We've got to move quickly to a political track and there are many ways to do that and one way is with a regional or international conference," Powell said.
Sharon "gave some endorsement to that kind of idea" when they talked on Sunday "and Chairman Arafat did as well," Powell said.
Powell said he did not broach the idea of who would attend a conference except that representatives of both sides would be there. He said of Arafat, "It doesn't necessarily require his presence to get started."
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi endorsed a conference, saying such a gathering must include the United States, the European Union and the Arab League as well as Israel and the Palestinians.