- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2003

SHUNEH, Jordan — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, arriving in the Middle East for the fourth time in six weeks, said yesterday that peace talks were showing signs of progress and that a provisional Palestinian state was still feasible this year.

He voiced optimism over negotiations to transfer security control in northern Gaza from Israel to the Palestinian Authority, but he played down the chances that a deal might be reached after he meets today with leaders on both sides.

“The reports I have been getting are that there have been good conversations between the Palestinians and Israelis on security issues,” Mr. Powell said.

“The fact that we have the Palestinian and the Israeli security authorities talking about a handover in Gaza, and talking seriously, is progress.”

Speaking to reporters on his plane during a flight from Bangladesh to Jordan, the secretary said that U.S. envoy John S. Wolf, who has been in the region since the weekend, was to discuss details of the Gaza security arrangement with both the Israelis and the Palestinians last night.

“I just don’t want to hype it to the point where tomorrow, if that progress … has not culminated in an agreement, that I had led you to believe that [it was] imminent,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to press both sides.”

Today, Mr. Powell is scheduled to meet in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as well as the Israeli foreign and defense ministers, Silvan Shalom and Shaul Mofaz.

In the afternoon, he will travel to the West Bank town of Jericho for a meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Although he sought to dampen any high hopes for a breakthrough during his one-day visit, the secretary said that he still believed the target date of late 2003 for creating a Palestinian state with provisional borders, as outlined in “road map” peace plan, is still achievable.

“I don’t think it’s out of the question, but we need to see a lot of progress quickly,” he said.

The road map calls for the creation of a full-fledged Palestinian state by 2005.

Commenting on the latest wave of attacks on Israelis by the Palestinian militant groups, Mr. Powell said that a cease-fire alone is not enough.

“I view a cease-fire, or whatever you choose to call it, as just one step toward eliminating the capability to conduct terrorist acts,” he said.

Palestinian militants resumed suicide attacks a week after Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas shook hands and pledged their commitment to the road map in the Jordanian resort of Aqaba on June 4.

Mr. Powell, who accompanied Mr. Bush then, had visited the region twice in May. During his first trip, he met with Syrian and Lebanese leaders and assured them that their concerns would be taken into consideration as implementation of the road map progressed.

On Sunday, the secretary is expected to meet in Jordan with representatives of the Quartet — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — which drafted the road map in December.

He said yesterday that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, will attend the meeting.

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