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Powell Uses 'Telephone Diplomacy' to Tackle Mideast Violence - 2002-02-25

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has returned to telephone diplomacy in the Middle East in the face of what the State Department calls a "deeply troubling" upsurge of Israeli-Palestinian violence. In a weekend series of calls, he spoke to, among others Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah to discuss his regional peace overture.

Mr. Powell, who spent last week in Asia with President Bush returned his attention to Middle East with a flurry of weekend calls to leaders in the area.

They included Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and the Saudi Crown Prince, whose peace proposals have been seized on by administration officials as at least one positive note in a bleak diplomatic situation.

In comments to The New York Times earlier this month, Crown Prince Abdullah said he was considering an overture to Israel offering Arab diplomatic recognition of the Jewish State if Israel withdrew from all Arab land occupied in 1967.

The Crown Prince, his country's de facto ruler, said he was withholding formal presentation of the plan because of recent Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza.

But his ideas have also been carried by the official Saudi media and have been widely discussed, including at a meeting here Monday between Mr. Powell and Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique.

In a talk with reporters, the Secretary of State said that in their phone talk he thanked the Saudi leader for the initiative and said he hopes he is soon able to elaborate on it.

"I think its an important step that we have welcomed and I wanted to share with the Crown Prince our reaction to his idea and hope that in the weeks ahead it will be fleshed out in great detail," Secretary Powell said.

Mr. Powell's meeting with the Spanish Foreign Minister was aimed at coordinating Mideast peace efforts by the United States and the European Union, whose rotating presidency is currently held by Spain.

Some European officials are reported concerned by what they see as recent U.S. neglect of the Middle East, and Mr. Pique said U.S. and European views on the region are not always fully "congruent."

But he said he and Mr. Powell agreed on the need for a mutual reduction of Israeli-Palestinian violence and for Mr. Arafat to make all possible efforts to curb extremists within Palestinian ranks, though Mr. Pique suggested that might not be possible as long as Israel continues to restrict his movements in Ramallah.

"I think that if we ask for 100 percent efforts in order to fight against terrorism, we have to see to it that he has 100 percent capacity to do that," he said. "This is a clear position of the European Union."

A spokesman here, though noting that Israel had somewhat eased its restrictions on Mr. Arafat, said the United States looks to Israel for further action to facilitate efforts by the Palestinian Authority to confront violence, and to help promote a more positive environment on the ground.

In his weekend calling, Secretary Powell also talked to Jordan's King Abdullah, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher and EU Foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who is currently shuttling in the region.