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US Administration to Push Forward with Mideast Peace Opportunities


U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says he will pursue Mideast peace initiatives in the few weeks remaining before he leaves office. Mr. Powell met with Israel's foreign minister at the State Department only a few hours after announcing his resignation from the Bush administration.

Secretary Powell says his departure from office will not affect U.S. policy toward the Middle East peace process. "We're going to keep moving forward," he said. "It's the president's policies that are being pursued and implemented, not Colin Powell's."

Mr. Powell travels to Egypt at the end of the month for a regional meeting on Iraq. But, he also expects to meet with leaders and parties involved in the Middle East peace process to discuss the latest developments. A Palestinian official says Mr. Powell may also visit the West Bank but that has not been confirmed.

Sounding optimistic, Mr. Powell says the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat offers new opportunities to revive the peace process. The U.S. and Israeli governments had considered Mr. Arafat an obstacle to achieving a settlement and refused to deal with him in the last several years.

For his part, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom says his government is ready to help facilitate Palestinian elections in January for a new leader. "Israel will do everything in order to give them the possibility, to enable them to have their election; a free and fair election," he said. "We will do everything that is needed to give them freedom of movement. But of course we will do it while we are not doing anything to harm or to damage our security or our safety."

After his talks with the Secretary of State, Mr. Shalom also took a minute to offer a personal tribute to Mr. Powell. "You are a very good friend of Israel but more than that, you are a very good friend of peace," he said.

Mr. Powell has listed resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict as one of the top priorities for whoever replaces him as secretary of state.