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Powell: Meeting with Sharon to Focus on Israeli Troop Withdrawal - 2002-04-11

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Jerusalem to begin the critical phase of his Middle East mission. He meets Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon later Friday and goes to the West Bank Saturday to see besieged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.

Mr. Powell says he does not see Mr. Sharon's lack of response to U.S. calls for an immediate Israeli troop pullback as an affront. But he none-the-less indicates a withdrawal timetable will be the main agenda item when he has his initial meeting with the prime minister.

Mr. Powell came here from Jordan, where King Abdullah described the Powell mission as a make-or-break effort, and said he feared the consequences of a failure.

Mr. Powell said in Amman he is seeking to both implement the long-stalled cease-fire plan of CIA director George Tenet, and to move aggressively toward renewed peace talks under the plan advanced last year by the commission of former Senator George Mitchell.

"Move aggressively with respect to political action, move aggressively with respect to getting a political track started," said Mr. Powell. "So that while security is restored, while confidence is being built up as provided for in Tenet and Mitchell - there is a political process in Mitchell which we believe has to be accelerated and expanded upon in order to show the Palestinian people that there is hope out there hope for them to have their own state living side-by-side in peace with Israel."

A Jordanian government statement said King Abdullah urged Mr. Powell to increase pressure on Mr. Sharon for a troop withdrawal and to deal with Mr. Arafat as the legitimate leadership and elected president of the Palestinian people.

It also said the king stressed the need for a peace plan leading to Palestinian statehood that has a specific timetable - a point also underlined by Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, who appeared with Mr. Powell at a news conference:

"A detailed and time-lined plan that would give people hope that indeed there is an end to this, and there is a credible alternative to the path that some are advocating today," said Mr. Muasher. "Only if we can do that, we feel will we have a reasonable chance of getting out of the present situation and engage in a political process that would end in a reasonable time-frame. And I think this is the kind of effort that we all agree on, and the kind of effort that we intend to engage in."

Mr. Powell spoke by telephone with Mr. Sharon Thursday, who told him Israel was withdrawing from more than 20 Palestinian villages and towns but would remain in major population centers including Ramallah, Jenin and Nablus until terrorist behind the wave of anti-Israel suicide bombing have been routed.

The secretary who consulted with U.S. Arab allies and European leaders in advance of coming here has said during the trip that the Israeli campaign may suppress terrorist factions but that Israeli military operations will not take away the underlying causes of the conflict.

Mr. Powell is expected in his meeting with Mr. Arafat Saturday to demand that he do more to combat terrorism, while also offering international aid to help the Palestinian Authority rebuild its security forces and other institutions damaged by the Israeli incursions.