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Mideast 'Quartet' Conference Starts Tuesday in NY - 2002-07-15

Another high-level meeting on the Middle East opens in New York Tuesday, with officials from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations hoping to jump-start the stalled peace process.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will be joined by Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov, chief European Union diplomat Javier Solana, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The aim is to give new life to the shattered peace process. Diplomats, at this point, are saying very little about the prospects for progress.

The Palestinian Authority led by Yasser Arafat wants Israel to pull out of West Bank towns before it carries out the reforms the United States is demanding. For its part, Israel, which is coping with a rash of suicide bombings this year, maintains it cannot withdraw completely until its security concerns are met.

The issues are tough, with no easy answers. But the "quartet" mediators seem to be working on the premise that a solution to the impasse has to be found sooner rather than later. The loss of life on both sides has mounted, and the Palestinian economy is in shambles.

Foreign ministers from Jordan and Egypt are expected at the New York talks for separate meetings with the "quartet." Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries that have signed peace treaties with Israel.

Arab countries are pushing for international recognition of a Palestinian state, with final borders negotiated in a two-year time frame. Diplomatic sources say that plan will probably not be acceptable because President Bush has linked a Palestinian state to the departure of Yasser Arafat. The United States says Mr. Arafat has not done enough to stop terrorist activities against Israel.