Secretary of State Colin Powell says he does not think his Middle East peace mission is in jeopardy despite the latest Palestinian suicide bombing and Israel's criticism of his plans to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The secretary arrives in Jerusalem late Thursday after meeting Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman.
Mr. Powell is stressing his determination to go ahead with the planned meeting with Mr. Arafat, even though Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says such an encounter would be a "tragic mistake."
The Palestinian authority chief has been isolated by Israeli troops at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah since late last month, though U.S. truce envoy Anthony Zinni was allowed to see him last week.
The secretary spoke to reporters after a joint meeting on the Middle East here with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
Mr. Powell said despite his circumstances, Mr. Arafat remains a key figure in any effort to get a Middle East cease-fire.
"He is the leader of the Palestinian people, and I think the Palestinian people and the Arab leaders with whom I have met over the last several days believe he is the partner that Israel will have to deal with at some point, he and the other leaders of the Palestinian authority. The reality is that no other Palestinian leader, or for that matter, Arab leader is prepared to engage as a partner until Mr. Arafat has had a chance to express his views to me and to others," Mr. Powell said. "And so I hope there will be no difficulties in arranging a meeting with Chairman Arafat. And I think if we are going to move forward, such a meeting is appropriate, and important."
Mr. Powell said the United States would like to see Mr. Arafat given more space and access to communication facilities so that he can more readily communicate with other Palestinian leaders
He said he would raise the conditions of Mr. Arafat's confinement when he sees Israeli officials in meetings expected to begin Friday.
After their four-way meeting here, the United States, European Union, the U.N. and Russia issued a joint-statement for an immediate end to Israeli military operations in Palestinian areas, and urging the Palestinian Authority to "act decisively" to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and end incitement to violence.
It said terrorism, including suicide bombings, is illegal and immoral and has inflicted grave harm to the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.
The Madrid meeting was part of an effort by Mr. Powell to generate political support for his peace mission, especially from Arab moderates, before his arrival in Jerusalem
Since leaving Washington, he has also held talks with the leaders of Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and will see Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman before flying to Israel Thursday.
The secretary had tentatively planned four days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, but now says his mission aimed both at a cease-fire and a new start to political talks between the parties is open-ended.