Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Cairo for talks with Egyptian leaders on Iraq, Sudan, and efforts to put the road map to an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord back on track. Mr. Powell says Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza offers a golden opportunity to accomplish the latter.
Mr. Powell has heavily praised Egypt for trying to help build security groundwork for Israel's planned disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.
He says the onus is now on the Palestinians to make good on promises to consolidate their security forces under an empowered Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, so they can assume political and security responsibilities in areas Israel vacates.
In an airborne news conference en route to Cairo from Budapest, where he declared that Palestinians have a golden opportunity in front of them, Mr. Powell said he is still not certain Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is ready to cede security powers despite promises he made to get Mr. Qureia, also known as Abu Ala, to rescind his resignation:
"President Arafat is a master of the ambiguous statement or the statement with the yo-yo string on it. It gets pulled back," he said. "We're looking for action, and when we see that Prime Minister Abu Ala has real authority over the security forces and is taking action to reorganize them, and make them more effective and efficient, make them more competent, and is taking action against terrorism, then we'll be convinced, and I hope that is what's happening."
Mr. Powell downplayed the lasting significance of polls indicating that the United States' popularity in Egypt and other Arab countries is at or near an all-time low.
He acknowledged the administration is facing a wave of anti-American sentiment based on Arab differences with U.S. policies.
But he also said he believes there is still a great deal of respect and admiration for the United States beneath the surface, and that polling trends will reverse as "we deal with and solve the problems that are causing the anti-American feeling."
Mr. Powell said this includes bringing the insurgency in Iraq under control and moving that country down the road to successful elections, and satisfying expectations for progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. That, he said, will require help from the immediate parties but also U.S. Arab allies including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the next country on the Secretary's Middle East itinerary.
Mr. Powell will meet Saudi officials Thursday in Jeddah and also hold talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who will be there on a visit. The Secretary will visit Kuwait and perhaps make other stops in the region before completing the trip early next week in Bosnia and Poland.