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Powell Continues Mideast Telephone Diplomacy - 2002-04-02

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, among others, Tuesday as he continued telephone diplomacy aimed at easing the Middle East crisis. Mr. Powell is advising Israel against forcing beleaguered Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat into exile abroad.

Mr. Powell spoke with Mr. Sharon for the second time in as many days after expressing hope in a series of U.S. television interviews that Israel's military drive in the West Bank will end quickly and that the sides will again focus on trying to reach a cease-fire.

The Secretary defending the Bush administration's peace-making efforts insisted that pieces of a truce accord were beginning to come together before last week's Passover-holiday suicide attack in the Israeli coastal town of Natanya that triggered Israel's military offensive.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker says that in addition to his call to Mr. Sharon, Mr. Powell spoke with Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abul-Ragheb, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana and his counterparts from Russia and Canada.

The spokesman said the common message to all is the necessity to end the violence and get the parties back to negotiations. "At the end of the day," he said, "we've got to have a political solution to this. We've got to work out, through the Tenet work plan, through the Mitchell process, a solution to get us back to negotiation."

Jordan's official news agency said Prime Minister Abul-Ragheb told Mr. Powell the current crisis is threatening regional stability and that he urged the Secretary to press Israel to end its siege of the Arafat headquarters in Ramallah and remove its troops from Palestinian areas.

Mr. Powell said in his television interviews that Israeli officials have told the United States the Palestinian leader will not be harmed or killed. He also said sending Mr. Arafat into exile, as mooted by some Israeli officials, would not help the situation.

Responding to critics of the administration's handling of the crisis, among them former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Mr. Powell said he is "deeply involved" in efforts to restore calm and willing to make another visit to the region "when it serves a useful purpose."

But the Secretary, who plans to go to Europe next week, said he is not interested in trips "just for the sake of trips."

In another development, the State Department, citing a deteriorating security situation, renewed a warning to U.S. citizens to defer travel to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

It also said it was authorizing the voluntary departure of the dependents of diplomats posted at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem because of the recent terrorist bombings in the city.