Secretary of State Colin Powell says the international conference on the Middle East being planned for next month would not attempt an instant resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mr. Powell spent most of Monday in meetings on the Middle East with Jordan's King Abdullah, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.
Plans for the conference were announced here with some fanfare last Thursday at a four-way meeting of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. But U.S. officials have since been downplaying expectations for the ministerial-level meeting likely to be held in Europe.
In a talk with reporters after seeing Jordan's King Abdullah, Mr. Powell said it will be a vehicle for sorting out competing ideas on how to reach peace. "There are lots of different ideas out there," he said. "But sooner or later you've got to bring all these ideas together where reasonable people can sit down and begin to discuss the ideas to see how to go forward. And the meeting we're talking about for this summer would not be a one-time meeting. It would be yet another step on a way forward."
Saudi Foreign Minister al-Faisal, after his meeting with the Secretary, had a lukewarm response to the proposed conference, saying it is not an end in itself. He said the conference is "not a bad idea" provided that the content is proper, but also made clear that any progress depends on Israel completing its withdrawal in the West Bank.
Mr. al-Faisal said, "We hope that the efforts that are being expended to complete the Israeli withdrawal are finalized so that we can move towards the next steps. And this is the time for all sides to come with a positive attitude to change the circumstances in which the Middle East is going through. The withdrawal is a necessary first step but the important work is coming after that in the next steps."
Secretary Powell met for about 45 minutes at a Washington hotel with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who goes to the White House for talks with President Bush on Tuesday.
U.S. officials declined to discuss details, though Israeli officials say Mr. Sharon raised evidence - much of it collected during Israel's military campaign in the West Bank - of involvement in anti-Israeli terror attacks by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
In comments in Michigan, President Bush said he shares with Israel "a high level of disappointment" in Mr. Arafat, who he said must exert leadership, and show the world he believes in peace.