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Powell Issues Warning to Yasser Arafat

Secretary of State Colin Powell warned Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat Tuesday not to try to act as a "spoiler" in U.S.-led efforts to bring about a two-state solution of the Middle East conflict. In a news conference at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, Mr. Powell also said any Palestinian state that emerges from the process should have territorial "contiguity."

The Sharm el-Sheikh summit marked the entry onto the international stage of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, whose emergence as a political counter-weight to Yasser Arafat, has been welcomed by the United States among others.

But Mr. Arafat remains an influential and perhaps a still-dominant figure in Palestinian politics. And though he was not invited to either the Sharm el-Sheik or Aqaba meetings, his influence was nonetheless felt.

At a closing summit news conference, Secretary of State Powell said U.S. officials recognize that Mr. Arafat "is still an elected president" and still has standing with the Palestinian people, though he said the United States believes "his leadership has failed."

With their presence at Sharm el-Sheikh, Mr. Powell said President Bush and the assembled Arab leaders recognized Mr. Abbas in his new role and showed their support for his leadership and opposition to terrorism.

He said it would be "very unfortunate" if Mr. Arafat, whose tenure U.S. officials believe was tainted by links to terror and corruption, failed to recognize the significance of the turn of events, and tried to thwart peace efforts.

"I think that it is clear that we're moving forward," he said. "And for Mr. Arafat to serve as a spoiler, or attempt to be a spoiler, I hope will be met by resistance from all of the Arab leaders who are here today, and such spoiling activities would be met with resistance by the international community. But above all, I hope the Palestinian people will see that in this new leadership, which they elected through their legislature, we have a chance that had previously been denied to the Palestinian people and will not let anyone, to include Mr. Arafat, deny them that opportunity."

Mr. Powell acknowledged that many U.S. friends in the Arab world and Europe "still recognize" Mr. Arafat and will have contact with him.

But he said he hopes donors to the Palestinian Authority will increasingly channel funds through reformist Finance Minister Salam Fayyad so that the money will be handled in an "honest, open and transparent manner."

Under questioning, the secretary of state said that to live side-by-side with an envisaged state of Palestine, the United States believes that Israel "must always be seen as a Jewish state," a position that would seem to foreclose the return to Israel of large numbers of Palestinian refugees.

At the same time, he said a Palestinian state that emerges from the peace process will need to have geographic "contiguity," a concept that implies Israeli territorial concessions.

"Contiguous means that if you're going to have a state, the people will recognize the state," he said. "And the Palestinians will say: this truly is a homeland for us. Then it has to have contiguity. It has to be connected. It has to have means of moving about within that state. So it can't be chopped up in so many ways, in some form of Bantustan, that it would not really be seen as an honest effort to provide a state for the Palestinian people."

Mr. Powell said he would not minimize the difficulty of the issues including Jerusalem, the future of Israeli settlements and the rights of Palestinian refugees. But he said the process to a peace accord within three years under the international "road map" needed to get started, and that, he said, "is what we have done today."