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Powell to Visit Middle East, Europe to Discuss Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict - 2004-07-23

Secretary of State Colin Powell travels to Europe and the Middle East next week for talks centering on Iraq and prospects for progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Mr. Powell will visit at least five countries and possibly more in a week-long overseas trip that begins and ends in Europe but includes stops in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters Mr. Powell will seek international support for Iraq's interim government as it attempts to deal with the continuing insurgency and lays groundwork for elections next year.

The secretary will also discuss the Bush administration's initiative for democratic reform in the Middle East region, and U.S. hopes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank can be a catalyst for reviving the international "road map" to Middle East peace.

Spokesman Boucher said the secretary's stop in Cairo, a follow-up to a recent visit by chief U.S. Middle East diplomat William Burns, will focus on efforts by the Egyptian government to make security arrangements for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza:

"We recognize the important role that Egypt has offered to play, and is playing, in trying to work on this, and meet with both the Israelis and the Palestinians," he said. "So we certainly welcome that role. We've discussed it with them many times. You remember Ambassador Burns was just out there a few weeks ago meeting with the Egyptians and others. And so we'll continue to pursue that and the secretary wants a chance to talks directly to Egyptian leaders about it."

Egypt has joined the United States in pressing for reform and consolidation of Palestinian security services. It has offered to train Palestinian forces to take authority in Gaza in the wake of an Israeli pullback, and also committed itself to tackling the problem of weapons smuggling between Egypt and Gaza.

Mr. Powell will begin his trip next Monday in Budapest for talks on, among other things, the future of Hungary's 300-member troop presence in Iraq. After the Middle East swing, he visits Poland, another key member of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

With 24-hundred soldiers in Iraq, Poland currently has the fourth-largest troop contingent there, behind the United States, Britain and Italy.

While in the Polish capital, the secretary will attend 60th anniversary observances of the 1944 Warsaw uprising against the World War Two Nazi occupation of the city.