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US Disagrees With Mideast 'Quartet' Partners on Arafat Future - 2002-07-16

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday the United States is working on a security plan for the Middle East and is looking for new Palestinian leadership to help put that plan in action. Mr. Powell and his partners from Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, a grouping known as the "quartet," ended a day of talks in New York openly disagreeing on the future of Yasser Arafat.

Secretary Powell has signaled that security in the Middle East will be Washington's top priority as it pursues with its partners a political settlement. He has also firmly stated that the United States has no intention of collaborating with Yasser Arafat on any security arrangements.

Mr. Powell said efforts are currently underway to identify new leadership. "I don't want to single out particular names at this time. But I think there is a way to work with the Palestinians and the Israelis because this is something both sides will have to be involved in," he said.

Washington's partners have indicated their discomfort with the U.S. position. They want political talks leading to a Palestinian state to move forward. But with Washington's rejection of Mr. Arafat, they see no way around the impasse.

Mr. Powell met in New York with the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan. They will hold further talks in Washington this week, joined by the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia. These Arab partners in the peace process also have expressed frustration with the U.S. focus on Yasser Arafat. They have insisted that Israel's continuing occupation of Palestinian towns is the main obstacle to progress.

Israel, for its part, says it will not pull out until the security issue is dealt with. Even as the talks were set to open in New York, Palestinian gunmen ambushed a bus in the West Bank, killing at least seven Israelis.