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Powell Concludes Mideast Talks Without Major Breakthroughs


Secretary of State Colin Powell has ended six-days of Israel-Palestinian peace talks without any major breakthroughs. The secretary said he would return to the region soon.

Mr. Powell did not get a truce agreement between the parties or nail down an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. But in a closing news conference he pledged an active Bush administration role in pursuit of a peace accord leading to Palestinian statehood

Mr. Powell said he was leaving assistant secretary of state for the Middle East William Burns in the region to continue the discussions he started. He also said CIA director George Tenet and Special Envoy Anthony Zinni would return to the area to pursue an end to hostilities.

The secretary questioned the value of an immediate truce agreement as long as Israel has not completed a pullback from the West Bank. "We could have a cease-fire declared today. But what would it mean while one side is still pursuing an operation that they are bringing to a close, but they have not yet brought to a close, and the other side is not yet in a position to respond because the incursion has not yet ended. It is in the process of ending, I hope. And so cease-fire is not a relevant term at the moment," Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Powell said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon provided a timeline for completion of the withdrawal this weekend. But he said there were unresolved issues regarding wanted men Israel said are holding out in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity and the Arafat compound in Ramallah.

Mr. Powell's last stop on the tour was Ramallah, where he met with Yasser Arafat for a second time.

In comments to reporters afterward, Mr. Arafat said he was grateful for the U.S. effort to try to get an Israeli-Palestinian truce and an Israel troop pullback from the West Bank.

But he was furious about the Israeli siege of his compound, which has kept him confined to a single building of the complex since late last month, with only intermittent water and electrical supplies. "I have to ask the whole international world. I have to ask his excellency President Bush. I have to ask the United Nations. Is this acceptable that I can not go outside from this door? Is this acceptable? For how long? Do you see? Do you see?" asked Mr. Arafat.

Mr. Arafat said Israel's re-occupation of West Bank towns, especially its actions in Jenin and Bethelehem were an "international outrage." His chief negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of torpedoing the Powell mission, which did not achieve a hoped-for cease-fire deal.

"Unfortunately Sharon has not withdrawn, Sharon is not leaving, Sharon is defiant. And it is really unfortunate that every effort exerted by the secretary was torpedoed by Sharon. Now we see Sharon's pace going on. Sharon is saying two-days Jenin, three-days Ramallah and Mukata [Arafat compound] and Nativity church his conditions. So that is very very unfortunate," Mr. Erekat said.

Secretary Powell urged the Israeli leader to ease conditions at the compound so that Mr. Arafat can, among other things, communicate to Palestinians the importance of stopping terrorism. Mr. Powell said that violence is holding Palestinian dreams hostage and barring the way to a political agreement that wound bring a Palestinian state.

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