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Meeting Planned to Discuss Palestinain Reforms - 2002-07-08

Plans are being made for a ministerial-level meeting in New York next week of the so-called Middle East "quartet", the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. U.S. officials said the meeting Monday, aimed at promoting Palestinian reforms, may be followed a day later by a broader discussion involving key Arab foreign ministers.

The Bush administration has made increasing use of the "quartet" in trying to coordinate Middle East policy with key allies.

A working-level meeting of the grouping was held last week in London. And officials here say the New York session including Secretary of State Colin Powell will seek ways to build momentum behind the Palestinian reform process, while also prodding Israel to ease its crackdown in Palestinian areas as security conditions improve.

In his Middle East policy statement two weeks ago, President Bush committed the United States to support creation of a Palestinian state with provisional boundaries once the Palestinians have elected a new leadership as he put it "not compromised by terror."

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined specific comment on the shake-up by Yasser Arafat of key security officials in recent days, but he reiterated the U.S. stand that any meaningful reform of the Palestinian Authority must extend to the top level. He said, "We're not going to create a Palestinian State, we're not going to be able to create the institutions required for a Palestinian state to live stably and side-by-side safely with Israel without new leadership, new directions and new institutions. And the efforts being made in that direction are certainly something that we do support and we want to support."

Mr. Powell would be joined at the "quartet" meeting by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who would likely host the meeting at U.N. headquarters.

Tentative plans would have Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, his Jordanian counterpart Marwan Muasher and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal join the quartet for talks on Tuesday, though arrangements for the broader meeting were not complete.

That session would provide the first opportunity for Secretary Powell to talk to the Arab ministers face to face since the launch of the Bush plan June 24.