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Powell Begins Europe-Middle East Mission in Hungary - 2004-07-26

Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Hungary at the start of a week-long trip to Europe and the Middle East. Talks will focus on Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Sudan.

Mr. Powell, who has attracted recent critical comment for traveling less than his predecessors, is making up some of that perceived deficit with an overseas mission spanning a week and including stops in at least six countries in Europe and the Middle East.

The Secretary will hold talks with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, and other senior officials here in Budapest.

Hungary has been a strong supporter of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, though Mr. Kovacs suggested last week Hungary's 354-member troop contingent might be withdrawn before its mandate ends at the close of the year, if Iraq returned to stability.

An official traveling with Mr. Powell said the Secretary would not press Hungarian officials to extend their Iraq presence, but rather thank Hungary for its participation in the multi-national force and for its small presence with NATO in Afghanistan, as well.

Mr. Powell goes on from Hungary for a mid-week swing through the Middle East, including stops in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and perhaps elsewhere in the region.

His discussions in Egypt will focus on Egyptian efforts, warmly praised by the United States, to help insure security in Gaza in connection with an Israeli withdrawal promised under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for disengagement from the Palestinians.

Mr. Powell will also discuss the situation in Egypt's southern neighbor, Sudan, where the United States is pressing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would sanction the Khartoum government, unless it arrests Arab militia leaders responsible for ethnic-cleansing in the Western Darfur region.

Egypt has been hesitant about an early resort to sanctions, with the country's new foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit urging that Sudan to be given more time to fulfill stated promises to control the militias and open Darfur to relief workers.

Officials say Mr. Powell remains active in telephone diplomacy on Sudan, discussing the issue over the weekend and Monday with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and the foreign ministers of Germany, China, France and Russia.

The situation in Iraq will dominate Mr. Powell's talks in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and also in the trip's final stop, Poland, which has the fourth-largest troop contingent in Iraq behind only the United States, Britain and Italy.

U.S. officials said Monday the secretary will precede his Warsaw visit with a stop in Sarajevo to discuss with Bosnian officials the transition from a NATO to a European Union peacekeeping force in the Balkans country at the end of the year.