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Powell Heads to Mideast

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Thursday begins the critical phase of his Middle East peace mission. He flies from Madrid, where he discussed the regional crisis with European foreign ministers, to Jordan and then to Israel, late in the day.

Mr. Powell is pressing ahead with the mission, despite another anti-Israeli suicide bombing, Wednesday, and Israeli resistance to U.S. calls for a full withdrawal from Palestinian towns in the West Bank.

At a news conference here, after meeting Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov, Mr. Powell said he was proud and pleased to be making the Middle East trip and does not want to, "wallow with the pessimists" about the possible outcome.

The secretary says he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Thursday morning, about his negotiating mission and about his plan to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, despite Mr. Sharon's assertion that such a meeting would be a "tragic mistake."

Mr. Powell says it was clear, from the conversation, Israeli troops will not have ended their West Bank incursion by the time of his arrival in Israel, but he said in any event the military drive will not end the Palestinian extremism that helped fuel the current crisis.

"No matter how effective the Israeli defense forces believe they are being, right now, in rooting out terrorism and going after the other targets they have set for themselves, when it is over, there will still be people who are willing to resort to violence and terror, and people who are willing to build suicide bombs and other kinds of bombs of the kind we've seen over the last three days, even after 12 days of incursions," Mr. Powell said. "And that violence and that anger and frustration which fuels it will be there unless we find a negotiating process that both sides have confidence in and a negotiating process that will lead to what the Palestinian people want, a state where they can raise their children and design their own futures, living side by side with Israel."

Mr. Powell and Foreign Minister Ivanov reported progress toward a sweeping nuclear arms reduction accord they hope to have ready for President Bush's summit trip to Russia in late June.

The say there will be more expert meetings on the subject, next week, and Mr. Ivanov will visit Washington in late May to try to finish the arms deal which would cut the nuclear arsenals of the two powers by about two-thirds.