Senior Palestinian envoy Nabil Shaath has pressed Secretary of State Colin Powell for a more assertive Bush administration role in peace efforts with Israel. Mr. Powell is to meet several Middle East leaders in New York this weekend on the sidelines of the rescheduled U.N. General Assembly.
Mr. Shaath - the Palestinian planning minister and close confidante of Yasser Arafat - said he conveyed a message to Secretary Powell from the Palestinian Authority chief. He is urging the United States to become more actively involved in the peace process.
Meeting reporters after a 45 minute talk with the Secretary of State, Mr. Shaath said there is "no alternative" to U.S. diplomatic intervention in ending the conflict that has raged for more than a year:
"And without it the situation will go from bad to worse. Think of how good it would be if the United States really helps out in putting this peace process on the ground and in making it go further. How much would that be helpful in this global fight against international terrorism and in creating a world that is more secure and more just," he said.
Secretary Powell will hold a series of bilateral meetings with Middle East leaders on the sidelines of the General Assembly, which was postponed from September, after the terrorist attacks in New York.
He had been expected to meet there with both Mr. Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, though Mr. Shaath left it unclear whether the Palestinian chief intended to visit New York.
Mr. Shaath said the Palestinians are committed to the Mitchell Commission plan, which the Bush administration has embraced as the pathway back to the peace talks. The plan calls for an Israeli military pullback and confidence building measures by both sides to restore the conditions for negotiations.
Under questioning, Mr. Shaath said Chairman Arafat is politically restrained in cracking down on Palestinian radicals, as called for in the plan, as long as Israel maintains what he called a "siege" of Palestinian areas:
"So long as the Israelis continue to assassinate, and to occupy and to keep the Palestinians in a humiliating and suffocating siege, it is very difficult to empower President Arafat in his own population. He is seen by a majority of the people as, in a way, doing Israel's bidding while an invasion is going on. It is very important that the commitments be made by the two parties and implemented by the two parties, which will empower President Arafat and give him the political support," he said.
There had been reports the Bush administration might use the General Assembly to launch a new set of Middle East peace proposals. But State Department officials have in recent days dismissed that prospect - as well as the notion that President Bush might have his first meeting with Mr. Arafat in New York.
Mr. Shaath said the Palestinians want the administration to "clearly enunciate" its vision for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement - saying that represents what he termed "the political light at the end of the tunnel" for the region.