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Powell-Arafat Meeting Might be Rescheduled for Sunday - 2002-04-12


U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will not meet Saturday with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the wake of the latest Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem. The United States is pressing Mr. Arafat to condemn the attack, which killed six Israelis and wounded nearly 100 others.

Mr. Powell was to have met the Palestinian leader at his Israeli-encircled compound in Ramallah. But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, announcing early Saturday that the meeting will not take place as scheduled, made clear the United States is looking to Mr. Arafat to break his silence and condemn Friday's devastating bombing at Jerusalem's central market.

"The secretary condemns in the strongest possible terms today's terrorist attack and expects Chairman Arafat to do so as well," said Mr. Boucher. "It is important that Chairman Arafat not miss this opportunity to take a clear stand against the violence that harms the Palestinian cause."

Mr. Boucher went on to say a U.S. team including cease-fire envoy Anthony Zinni met with senior Palestinian officials in the West Bank town of Jericho after the Jerusalem blast, and also pressed for an end to violence and a clear denunciation of terrorism.

A senior U.S. official said the Powell-Arafat meeting might be rescheduled for Sunday if, in his words, circumstances permit. And he insisted Mr. Powell is not thinking of giving up on his Middle East peace mission, even though Israel is also resisting a U.S. call for a timetable for ending its military drive in the West Bank.

The spokesman said Mr. Powell pressed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in their more-than-four-hours of meetings Friday for the urgent completion of the troop pullback, and for starting a political process for peace as soon as possible.

Mr. Boucher said in lieu of the meeting with Mr. Arafat Saturday, the Secretary will meet with officials of the International Red Cross and the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugee affairs, UNRWA.

He said they will discuss the "severe" humanitarian problems in the West Bank following the Israeli incursions, especially in Jenin, the scene of house to house fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen. He said the United States will also continue to raise its concerns on these issues with the Israeli government.