The United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations say they are working to hold an international conference on the Middle East this summer. The parties, including Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, EU chief diplomat Javier Solana and U.N. Secretary-Gneeral Kofi Annan, discussed the idea at a meeting in Washington late Thursday chaired by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The meeting was the second of the so-called Middle East "quartet" in less than a month aimed at coordinating policy to both end the Israel-Palestinian conflict and restore a regional peace process.
Speaking for the group, Secretary Powell said the quartet will begin contacts with concerned parties for an international conference by early summer, which he stressed would be aimed not only at recovery from recent violence, but also putting the parties on a path toward a lasting political settlement. "When we talk about a conference, it's got to be a conference that deal with all elements that I've described: security, the economic reform, humanitarian issues and the political way forward," he said. "They all have to be integrated. And I think that's one of the agreements we came to today and I hope it's something that the parties in the region will welcome. Moving aggressively forward so the people see not only economic hope but they see political hope as we move forward toward our vision of a Palestinian state."
Mr. Powell said the quartet agreed on the need for setting "clear performance standards" for rebuilding what he termed "effective and responsible" Palestinian security institutions, and he suggested that the more than a billion dollars in international aid already pledged for Palestinian reconstruction would be used as leverage toward that end.
He also said he has had the "most direct conversations possible" with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on his responsibility to both speak out and act against terrorism, now that he is free from the Israeli siege in Ramallah. "He will either live, or not live up to those expectations. If he lives up to those expectations, if he speaks out against terror, if he speaks out against violence, if he now starts to lead his people in a way toward peace, and if we give his people something to look at in terms of a better life economically, hope for their children and a state that will be theirs, I hope that the Palestinian people will want that and will insist to their leaders, all of their leaders to include Mr. Arafat, that that's what we want you to get for us," he said.
Mr. Powell also said that in the envisaged peace process, there will have to be a cessation of new Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank and Gaza and that "something will have to be done" about those already in place.