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Powell Explains US Break with Arafat - 2002-06-25

Secretary of State Colin Powell is conducting telephone diplomacy in support of the Bush administration's new framework for Middle East peace that puts heavy stress on the need for new Palestinian leadership. Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat is notably absent from Mr. Powell's call list.

Mr. Powell has spoken to his counterparts from Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia among others in the call-around which began before the President's speech Monday. And officials here insist the reception to the U.S. initiative has been supportive, even from moderate Arab states which have been closely tied to Mr. Arafat.

Mr. Bush committed the United States, in the long-awaited policy statement, to support creation of a Palestinian state with provisional boundaries once the Palestinians had elected a new leadership that was not compromised by terror.

He also called on Israel to withdraw forces back to the lines of September 2000 as security improves and to halt settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza once violence ends. The president said a final-status agreement including full statehood for the Palestinians could be reached within three years.

Mr. Bush did not mention Yasser Arafat by name in the speech but other administration officials, including Secretary Powell, made it clear in subsequent remarks that there should be no role for him in a reformed Palestinian administration.

Mr. Powell explained the U.S. break with Mr. Arafat in a series of interviews Tuesday in which he stressed the administration's frustration with the Palestinian leader over his repeated failure to back up his rhetoric about curbing terrorism with action.

The secretary told the U.S. funded Middle East Radio Network the turning point came in late April when he visited Mr. Arafat at his Israeli-encircled compound in Ramallah, and told him he had to make "a strategic choice" against terror if he wanted to remain a partner with the United States in peace efforts.

"I pleaded with him to make that choice, but unfortunately we have not seen enough action from the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority that did anything to bring things under control, even with the reduced security assets that they have," Mr. Powell said. "And after all our work in the last two months, consulting, resolving the situation at the Church of the Nativity, getting the Israelis to at least pull back from where they were, we still found that that was responded to with even more terrible acts of terrorism. And we did not think that the current leadership was doing enough and was sufficiently empowered to do enough to bring this under control."

Mr. Powell told the U.S. radio [service] he thinks there is a "collective judgment" among moderate Arab statesmen and even within the Palestinian community that the leadership of Mr. Arafat has failed.

While he said he did not expect them to match the administration's outright split with the Palestinian Authority chief, he said he does expect to be able to explain the U.S. decision and win their understanding.

Mr. Powell told The New York Times he expects to travel to the region for consultations soon, though not immediately. And he said a planned ministerial-level conference on the Middle East, once expected as early as this month, has been indefinitely set back by continued suicide bombings and Israel's occupation of several West Bank towns.