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Powell Frustrated at Both Sharon and Arafat - 2002-03-06

With Middle East violence raging, Secretary of State Colin Powell is expressing frustration with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. At a Congressional hearing Wednesday, he said neither side is giving enough thought to the consequences of its actions.

Mr. Powell says de-fusing the Middle East crisis is the administration's top foreign policy priority, but he says nothing can be achieved until the parties themselves move to contain the violence.

Appearing at a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing, the Secretary said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has the responsibility to control Palestinian factions carrying out anti-Israeli attacks, and said he is still capable of halting terrorism despite his confinement by Israeli forces to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.

For his part, Mr. Powell said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should re-examine his policy of waging war against the Palestinians in reprisal for terror attacks. "Prime Minister Sharon has to take a hard look at his policies to see whether they will work," he said. "If you declare war against the Palestinians and think that you can solve the problem by seeing how many Palestinians can be killed, I don't know that that leads us anywhere. Right now, I'm not satisfied that the both sides have thought through the consequences of the policies they're following."

In his testimony, Mr. Powell said the administration is encouraged by the peace overture of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah and its prospect of eventual Arab-wide recognition of Israel in the context of a comprehensive peace.

But he said to get back on a track toward a negotiated settlement, Israel and the Palestinians should start adhering now to the cease-fire plan brokered last year by CIA Director George Tenet and then move on to confidence-building measures proposed by the Mitchell committee.

Defending the administration's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Powell said no issue has a higher priority or consumes more of his time.

He said President Bush's U.N. speech last November, with its explicit call for a solution producing a state of "Palestine" alongside Israel, was an unprecedented step by a U.S. leader.