U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has welcomed the Israeli security pullback in Gaza and the cease-fire pledge by Palestinian militants. But, he said, ultimately the factions carrying out terrorist attacks must be dismantled.
The Bush administration made an extraordinary diplomatic push to get the Gaza pullback, with visits to the region in the last two weeks by both Mr. Powell and White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The Secretary of State made the rounds of the U.S. network television morning programs Monday to celebrate the developments and to press for similar steps by the two sides in the West Bank, starting with Bethlehem.
Mr. Powell said the Israeli withdrawal, reopening north-south traffic in Gaza, will make life easier in the area, and he said he hopes Palestinians will realize that the international peace "roadmap" and the new government of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas brought this about.
He said the conditional cease-fire by key Palestinian militant groups was a "step in the right direction" toward the elimination of terrorism. But he told the NBC Today show that continued progress on the "road map" depends on the Palestinian Authority having exclusive security control in the areas under its jurisdiction.
"Cease-fires alone won't be enough. We ultimately have to reach a point where the capability for terrorism that exists in these organizations is removed. You can't have people with guns - armed militias - inside of a state. So if we are going to have a Palestinian state, all the weapons, all the force within that state, has to be under the government, and these terrorist organizations have to be dismantled," Mr. Powell said.
Mr. Powell said if weekly visits to the area by himself and other senior administration figures are required to maintain progress on the "road map," then they are prepared to do it.
However, he appeared to rule out the prospect of U.S. troops as part of a peace-keeping or separation force between the parties, telling NBC he sees the American role limited to that of "facilitators, monitors and evaluators" of what's going on. He said, "I don't anticipate, though, United States armed forces actually going in as some sort of peacekeeping force. Monitors, yes. And they're not necessarily military personnel. But we can help the two sides. We can be facilitators, monitors, evaluators of what's going on, but I don't see a role for United States armed forces in the region," Mr. Powell explained.
A U.S. team headed by Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf is now in the region setting up the monitoring presence. Mr. Powell said a key objective of Mr. Wolf will be to try to establish trust and good faith between the parties so that a future incident of terrorism does not derail the entire process.
He told the ABC network such progress can be made but that it depends upon "best efforts, and best intentions, and actual performance" by Mr. Abbas' government to bring the militants under control and disarm them. Otherwise he said he hopes of the Palestinians "will be dashed again," as well as the hopes of Israelis to live in peace again in their communities.