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Mideast Violence Discussed at Washington Diplomatic Meeting - 2002-03-05

The soaring Israeli-Palestinian violence is the subject of urgent diplomatic consultations in Washington Monday. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the crisis first with Egypt's visiting President Hosni Mubarak, and then with the European Union's chief diplomat Javier Solana.

The peace overture of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah was a major issue at both meetings, though Mr. Powell continued to stress that the Saudi offer of Arab-wide recognition of Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from occupied land is more a vision of peace than an actual peace plan.

Mr. Solana, who went to Jiddah last week to meet the Crown Prince, told reporters he is convinced the Saudi leader intends to push ahead with the initiative at the upcoming Arab summit. "I saw him determined to put his idea forward and we have to work," he said, "and to work together, to work with him, so that the summit that will take place in Lebanon of the Arab League may be a success, and an important step toward what we want - peace in the Middle East."

Mr. Powell met earlier in the day with Egypt's President Mubarak, who sees President Bush at the White House Tuesday afternoon.

The Secretary said Mr. Mubarak's offer to host an Israeli-Palestinian summit on the Saudi initiative is an interesting idea, but one that would depend on the willingness of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to sit down together.

For its part, he said the Bush administration will continue contacts with the beleaguered Palestinian leader. Secretary Powell said, "I think that Chairman Arafat is still the elected head of the Palestinian Authority and seen by the Palestinian people as their leader. And that is the reason we continue to work with him and deal with his representatives. And I spoke to Chairman Arafat last weekend and will continue to stay in touch with him."

President Mubarak said Monday he was proposing the Arafat-Sharon summit not in the expectation that it would solve the crisis, but to try to improve the atmosphere and provide some hope of peace for the Israeli and Palestinian people.

Mr. Mubarak also said in a rare phone conversation with Mr. Sharon several days ago, the Israeli leader asked him to arrange a secret meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah.

He said he conveyed the request to the Saudis but doubted the Crown Prince would agree to such a meeting unless and until a full Middle East peace accord was reached.