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US Plans Intense Engagement to Keep Mideast Peace Plan on Track - 2003-06-09

Secretary of State Colin Powell says there will be "much more intense" U.S. engagement in the coming weeks to try to keep the Middle East peace "road map" on track, in the face of attacks by extremists. Mr. Powell is attending a meeting of the Organization of American States.

Mr. Powell, who participated in the recent Middle East summits at Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba, says he will return to the region at the end of next week, as part of a stepped-up American effort to keep the international road map to an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord on track.

In a talk with reporters as he flew to Santiago for a hemispheric meeting of foreign ministers, Mr. Powell said he expects further Middle East talks when he visits Jordan for a meeting of the Davos World Economic Forum, late next week.

Mr. Powell says the visit could include a gathering of the Middle East "quartet" the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, along with the United States which drafted the peace plan and presented it to the parties at the end of April.

Mr. Powell says the United States has been in urgent contact with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli government on Sunday's lethal attack on Israeli troops at a Gaza crossing point -- in an effort, he said, to prevent terrorists from achieving their purpose the derailment of the "road map."

"We can't, " Mr. Powell said "let them win"

He said he is concerned that the radical Palestinian group Hamas, which has refused to curb anti-Israel attacks and was one of the factions claiming responsibility the Gaza shooting, in his words "still doesn't get it" and fails to realize that its actions will not bring peace or a Palestinian state.

The Secretary said Prime Minister Abbas' statements at the Aqaba summit renouncing terrorism and the the armed Intefada were not made because the United States and Israel wanted him to do it, but because he understands, in M. Powell's words, that "doesn't take the Palestinian people where they want to go."

Mr. Powell said he expects veteran U.S. diplomat John Wolf, head of the "road map" coordination group announced by President Bush, to go to the region later this week to begin setting up the monitoring team.

He said the coordination group, initially expected to have ten to twelve members, would be expanded as necessary to facilitate talks between the parties on meeting "road map" commitments on among other things Palestinian security steps and Israel's dismantling of illegal settlement outposts.

The "road map" provides for corresponding security and political steps by both sides leading to full Palestinian statehood and Arab-wide recognition of Israel by the end of 2005.