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Powell Asks Arafat to Support Words with Action - 2001-12-18

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is calling on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to back up, with concrete action, his stated commitment Sunday to combat anti-Israeli terror activity in areas under his control.

The administration also says it will continue its Middle East engagement, despite the re-call of cease-fire envoy Anthony Zinni.

The Bush administration is taking a cautiously hopeful approach to Yasser Arafat's televised speech Sunday night, which amounted to his strongest condemnation of terrorist violence since Israeli-Palestinian fighting erupted more than 14 months ago.

In a talk with reporters after meeting Poland's foreign minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Secretary Powell welcomed the Arafat message, but said his words need to be turned into action. Secretary Powell said, "We've had many words passed back and forth, and, now, we have to see his action. And, I think, if Mr. Arafat takes the action outlined in his speech - implied by his speech - then we will all be in a better position to get this process moving. And, I'm quite confident that the Israeli side would respond in a way that would be positive."

A spokesman later said reciprocal steps by Israel should include an easing of closures in the West Bank and Gaza and of other restrictions, which he said impose "real hardships" for the Palestinians.

He also said flatly the United States expects Mr. Arafat to "dismantle" the Hamas and Islamic Jihad extremist factions, which have been blamed for suicide bombings and other terror attacks on Israeli civilians.

Under questioning, the secretary of state said the United States was not retreating from its engagement in the region, despite his recall of U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, after a failed effort to get an Israeli Palestinian cease-fire.

Mr. Powell said the administration remains committed to the truce effort and the broader Middle East policy initiative he outlined in an address in Kentucky last month, including, he said, the "vision" of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. "That vision still stands," he said. And the vision that I had in the speech of a need for the violence to go down, for people to stop inciting others to violence, recognition that we have to have land for peace under the provisions of U.N. resolution 242 and 338 and that [Israeli] settlement activity should also stop. All of that, I think, remains as valid today as it was when I gave that speech.

Secretary Powell is expected to meet with Mr. Zinni later in the week to review his three-week mission to the area, which ended with his weekend return to Washington.

The secretary told television interviewers Sunday the failure was not Mr. Zinni's, but that of the two parties. He said the envoy, a retired U.S. Marine general, would return to the region at a time when the situation merits it.