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Powell Meeting With Senior Palestinian Official Is First Since November - 2002-02-05

Secretary of State Colin Powell has met with senior Palestinian envoy in advance of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's talks with President Bush Thursday. The Bush administration is continuing to press Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority to rein in extremists carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel.

Mr. Powell spent about an hour in the closed-door meeting with the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Ahmed Qureia, a close associate of Mr. Arafat and veteran negotiator better known as Abu Alaa.

Despite recent violence in the area, Mr. Qureia has remained in contact with Israeli officials and had meetings last week with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon in Jerusalem, and with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in New York.

Mr. Qureia said little upon emerging from his meeting with Secretary Powell, other than to say they discussed ways of removing obstacles to renewed peace negotiations.

But State Department spokesman Phillip Reeker said the Secretary made clear that the administration sees a Palestinian Authority crackdown on extremists as a precondition for a new U.S. peacemaking effort in the Middle East. "There's no question that Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have the responsibility right now to take strong, resolute and irreversible action to halt the violence and terror," the spokesman said. "And we believe that their focus must remain on this critical objective, and the Palestinian authority as well as Chairman Arafat know what needs to be done. They have to take steps now."

An official here said Mr. Powell reaffirmed comments he made in a weekend television appearance that the administration views as positive: Mr. Arafat's assertion in a New York Times commentary that he is determined to put an end to the activities of "terrorist organizations." But the official said there needs to be tangible progress on that front.

He also said Mr. Powell assured the envoy that the establishment of a Palestinian state living alongside Israel remains a U.S. policy goal.

Mr. Powell's meeting with Mr. Qureia was his first with a senior Palestinian official since he met Mr. Arafat last November in New York, reflecting the chill in U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority since a wave of suicide attacks against Israelis and exposure early last month of a Palestinian effort to smuggle in a boatload of Iranian arms.

President Bush's Thursday meeting with Mr. Sharon will be their fourth encounter, while the president has yet to meet with Mr. Arafat.