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Powell Calls for Greater Cooperation to Resolve Middle East Conflicts - 2004-05-15

Secretary of State Colin Powell is calling for greater cooperation toward a common approach to Iraq and toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Powell was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Jordan.

The issues Mr. Powell addressed were those expected to overshadow this gathering of world political and business leaders at this resort on Jordan's Dead Sea coast - namely the growing violence and instability in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Secretary Powell, in effect, acknowledged that efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have gone nowhere, that the internationally-backed road map peace plan remains stalled, and he said, there is a need, as he put it, to start again.

Mr. Powell said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for unilateral disengagement offers just that, and he defended President Bush's endorsement of the plan.

"The reason the president took the action that he did, was as simple as this - the process was not moving, we were not getting anywhere," said Colin Powell. "Prime Minister Sharon came forward with an opportunity - the elimination of settlements in Gaza and the beginning of the elimination of settlements in the West Bank. It was an opportunity we thought we should seize, because, for the first time, we were seeing the removal of settlements, not the addition of settlements."

Mr. Powell also defended President Bush's acknowledgment of certain new realities on the ground - taken to mean that he endorsed Israel keeping some chunks of Palestinian land. That statement was widely criticized in the region.

Mr. Powell said President Bush took what he called a controversial and bold decision, in order to get the peace process moving again. He said the United States remains committed to a future Palestinian state and to a negotiated final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that adheres to relevant U.N. resolutions.

Before coming to the economic forum, Secretary Powell met briefly in Amman with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, and urged him to seize the opportunity of an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a positive step that could help bring about an independent Palestinian state, as outlined in the road map peace plan.

Mr. Powell also called for close international cooperation on Iraq. He said the United States was working closely with United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and his efforts to put together an interim Iraqi government to take over from U-S control at the end of June.

"We're looking for leaders who will be respected by the people of Iraq, who'll be accepted by the people of Iraq, " he said. "You can be sure that, when those individuals have been found, and Ambassador Brahimi has presented his recommendations to the United Nations, the United States will be standing there with our Security Council colleagues anxious to endorse the work of Ambassador Brahimi."

Mr. Powell said he remains confident that the interim Iraqi government will ask U.S. forces to stay on in the country to help provide security.

Mr. Powell did not mince words when he spoke of the recent photos of American soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad.

"What I saw in those pictures, and what you saw, shocked me, it shocked all Americans," he said. "We're in a state of disbelief, as we saw what our young men and women had done. It was so inconsistent with what we uphold as a military, the values we uphold as a nation. It shocked us, because we knew how it would affect the region. We knew the region would look at those photos and say, 'is this the America that we believed in, is this the America whose value system we have admired for so many years?' "

Secretary Powell said the abuses would be dealt with. He also said they should not detract from the larger picture of what he said the United States is working to achieve in Iraq.