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Powell May Meet Arab-Israeli Officials During Europe Trip - 2002-04-04

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met Wednesday with Arab-American leaders, who called for stronger action by the Bush administration to get Israel to end its military drive in the West Bank. Mr. Powell, meanwhile, is indicating he may meet Arab and Israeli officials during his trip to Europe next week.

Mr. Powell is due to leave Monday on a trip to Germany and Spain for talks with European leaders and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. But in a talk with reporters Wednesday, he said the agenda for the long-planned three-day trip is now "in flux" and could be changed to accommodate meetings with Middle East officials.

The comments came amid pressure from European and Arab leaders for the Bush administration to step-up its diplomatic efforts to restore peace in the Middle East and particularly to prod Israel to end its military operations in Palestinian-run areas in the West Bank.

The Secretary held a 90-minute meeting with a delegation with Arab-American and U.S. Muslim leaders who appealed to Mr. Powell for tangible action by the Bush administration to implement last week's U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for an immediate Israeli withdrawal and cessation of all violence, including acts of terror.

A spokesman for the group, James Zogby, the head of the Arab-American Institute said Bush administration inaction on the U.N. resolution and the violence in the region is being perceived in the Arab world and elsewhere as a sign of tacit U.S. support for the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"Passing the resolution is one thing. But insisting on implementation, and a mechanism for implementation, is something else. And so there should be an immediate withdrawal, and an immediate cessation of violence, and a date certain set for negotiations to begin," he said. "If we do not do that, the situation continues to unravel and the perception is that Ariel Sharon is given a green light to continue."

Mr. Zogby said he and his colleagues urged the secretary of state to go to the region and personally engage in peace negotiations. He said Mr. Powell made no promises of specific action, but said he believes the Secretary understood the Arab-Americans' concerns.

The Middle East is likely to dominate a meeting Mr. Powell plans next week in Madrid with European Union foreign ministers.

In his talk with reporters here, Mr. Powell responded cooly to a call by European Commission President Romano Prodi for an international conference on the crisis, saying it is unclear what purpose such a meeting would serve.

But he also said he intends to "work hard" to see that the United States and Europe "stay together and unified" in their approach to the regional conflict.