U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday the international community is growing weary of waiting for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to hand over control of security forces to an empowered prime minister. He suggested this could mean reduced outside aid for the Palestinians.
Mr. Powell made no specific threats for cutting aid and set no deadlines. But at a news conference on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, the Secretary suggested that international aid to the Palestinians could be jeopardized if Mr. Arafat continues to resist calls for reform, especially demands that he yield control of security agencies to Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.
"There is a weariness in the international community to continue providing the kind of assistance the Palestinian people so desperately need unless we see some sort of political reform and determination on the part of the Palestinian Authority to improve itself," he said. "And improve itself in the form of having an empowered prime minister who has control over the security forces, can rationalize the security forces, and can put in place a government that is ready to take political responsibility for Gaza, security responsibility for Gaza, and is ready to engage the Israelis."
The United States has been the largest single aid provider to the Palestinians through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, despite its differences with Mr. Arafat, with whom it ceased political contact in 2002 because of his failure to curb terrorism.
In the U.S. policy speech to the General Assembly Tuesday, President Bush said world leaders should withdraw all favor and support from any Palestinian leader who fails his people and betrays their cause.
At the same time, Mr. Bush pressed Israel to impose a settlement freeze and dismantle unauthorized settler outposts, end what he termed the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and avoid any actions that prejudice final negotiations.
Mr. Powell discussed the Middle East dispute Thursday in a daylong set of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the United Nations with among others the foreign ministers of Egypt, Kuwait, and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
At his news conference, the Secretary said the Bush administration considers the international road map to Middle East peace to be the only way forward, and is convinced that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for withdrawing from Gaza and parts of the West Bank provides an opening for progress.