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Powell: Suicide Bombings Won't Sidetrack US Peace Efforts - 2002-05-08

Secretary of State Colin Powell says the latest suicide bomb attacks in Israel should not be allowed to sidetrack U.S. led efforts to restore a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. He spoke to reporters as he held talks on the Middle East and other issues with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Mr. Powell, the key figure in a month of intensive U.S. diplomacy on the Middle East, said Tuesday's terrorist incident puts "at risk" the possibility of moving forward. But he made clear the United States will continue pushing Arab leaders, the Palestinians and Israelis to work to end violence. Appearing alongside his British counterpart during a break in their meetings, the secretary appeared to anticipate Israeli retaliation for the lethal bombing near Tel Aviv, but said ultimately there must be a political settlement of the crisis.

"No matter how many military operations one conducts, or how many suicide bombs are delivered, at the end of the day we have to find a political solution," Mr. Powell said. " And I recognize how difficult it is with some of the parties who are there, some of the leaders who are out there, and with this kind of violence. And with responses that will come and acts of self-defense. But at the same time, we cannot lose sight of the reality that a political solution ultimately is what will be required to bring this long-running crisis to an end."

Mr. Powell said he expects CIA director George Tenet, author of a cease-fire plan spurned by the parties a year ago, to return to the region next week to try to re-establish Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation. He also said under questioning, that reform of the Palestinian authority is essential to a renewed peace process. But in an indirect rebuff to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and remarks he made at the White House Tuesday, he said he did not see reform as a pre-condition for dealings with the Palestinians.

For his part, Foreign Secretary Straw said he saw Tuesday's attacks as an attempt by Palestinian radicals to scuttle international efforts to restore a political dialogue.

"I'd like to reiterate what I said earlier today at a lecture which I gave at the Brookings Institution, of condemnation for these further suicide bombings, of great sympathy and condolences to the relatives and friends of those killed and to those injured, and concern, as I said this morning, about the way in which these repeated suicide bombings are aimed not only at death and destruction but also disrupting what will have to be a necessary process on the pathway back to peace," he stressed.

In his comments earlier at Brookings, a Washington think-tank, Mr. Straw said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat should remain involved in efforts to re-start the regional peace process, even though he said British officials are disappointed that he has not done more to control violence. The Foreign Secretary said it would be a mistake to bypass Mr. Arafat, and that those in search of regional peace, "don't get to choose the leaders we deal with."