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Powell: Violence Will Not Deter US Mideast Envoy - 2002-03-10

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni will not be deterred by violence in the region. The retired Marine Corps general will return to the area later this week to try to implement a cease-fire.

Everyone in the Bush administration acknowledges the task before Anthony Zinni is difficult. But Secretary Powell said General Zinni will persevere. Mr. Powell said, "He is going to stay in the region and fight his way through this. We are not going to allow acts of violence to stop General Zinni from doing his work."

President Bush pulled Anthony Zinni out of the region in January, indicating he would send him back when the violence eased. But with the bloodshed escalating on an almost daily basis, and with pleas for greater U.S. intervention, the president relented.

Secretary of State Powell says requests from regional leaders played a role in the White House decision. But so too did the fact that Saudi Arabia has put forward its own ideas for normalizing relations with Israel once a comprehensive peace plan is in place.

Mr. Powell told the CBS television program Face the Nation that the Saudi initiative has created "an opening." He said he is also encouraged by the fact Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has dropped a demand for seven days of complete quiet before negotiations can begin.

The secretary of state said he hopes both sides can now step back and begin to end the violence. "This is a time for both sides to exercise maximum restraint in order to make sure General Zinni can come in with some hopeful circumstances," he said.

American television viewers got a taste of the problems that will face Anthony Zinni when ABC television ran back-to-back interviews Sunday with Palestinian and Israeli officials.

Dore Gold, a senior advisor to prime minister Sharon, told ABC's This Week program the focus must be on ending attacks on Israel by Palestinian terrorists. "We must break the terrorism, get everyone to renounce violence, but particularly the Palestinians. Then, once violence is vanquished, we can negotiate peace," he said.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused the Israelis of "finger-pointing" and said that would not end the bloodshed. "Dore, can't you realize that your occupation has continued for the last 35 years and that is no answer," he asked? "The shortest way to peace between us and you is to end this occupation and to have a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel. Let us resume a meaningful peace process. Let us resume a meaningful negotiation."

Mr. Erekat disputed the notion that Anthony Zinni's earlier attempts to curtail the violence ended in failure. He said it takes time to get to know the parties involved. General Zinni is expected back in the region on Thursday. His mission will overlap with Vice-President Dick Cheney's ten-day trip to the Middle East.