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US Official Meets With Egyptian Foreign Minister Over Mideast Conflict - 2002-04-18

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns said the first step toward Mideast peace is full Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories it occupied recently. The U.S. diplomat remained in Cairo, after Secretary of State Colin Powell returned to Washington on Wednesday.

While many voices throughout the region are criticizing Mr. Powell's visit as a failure, Mr. Burns said the Secretary of State's effort was just the beginning.

William Burns met Thursday in Cairo with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher and he outlined U.S. priorities in its Middle East peace-making efforts.

"The first step is to complete, urgently and fully, the Israeli withdrawal from areas that have recently been occupied. Secondly to seek ways to resume security cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. Third, to try to resume and accelerate a serious political process aimed at the end of occupation and forth, and not least, finding ways to urgently address the very severe humanitarian circumstances of the Palestinians living under occupation," Mr. Burns said.

Newspaper reports throughout the region Thursday, questioned U.S. resolve to seek a peaceful resolution. Many of the newspapers suggested Secretary Powell's visit was intended to provide political cover for Israel while it carried out its latest incursions into Palestinian-controlled territories.

Assistant Secretary of State Burns said he will travel Friday to Jerusalem to try to accelerate an Israeli withdrawal.