- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2001

CAIRO Colin Powell will get an earful from Arab leaders angered over the breakdown of the Middle East peace process and air strikes against Iraq when he arrives in the region tomorrow on his first solo trip as secretary of state.
But the biggest problem for the secretary may be getting his interlocutors to agree on the agenda.
"Mr. Powell wants to talk about [sanctions on] Iraq and the Arabs want to talk about the Arab-Israel peace process," said Egyptian analyst Mohammed Ahmad, a columnist with the authoritative al-Ahram newspaper, in an interview.
Following his talks here with President Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Powell flies to Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip to discuss the violence in Israel and the territories that has killed about 400 people since September.
Analysts said Mr. Powell's trip is either extremely ill-timed or comes just in time to test the diplomatic and negotiating skills of the former Persian Gulf war hero.
Mr. Mubarak is hard pressed to explain to Egyptians why, 10 years after the nation took part in the Gulf war, the United States still is pounding Iraq with bombs and maintaining sanctions that are blamed for shortages of food and medicine.
Like the leaders of Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, whom Mr. Powell will also see over the next five days, the Egyptian president cannot afford to ignore the bitterness in the "Arab street," where public opinion is inflamed against Israel and strongly supportive of Iraq.
"I hate Israel," said the manager of a restaurant in the trendy Zamalek neighborhood of Cairo. "Where they are killing Palestinians, there is no peace."
Mr. Powell will have to find a way to restart the Middle East peace process that has been left in tatters by the failure of the past year's negotiations, said Tasheen Basheer, a former diplomat and adviser to the Egyptian government.
But little can be accomplished as long as Israel's government remains in disarray, the analyst acknowledged.
Likud leader Ariel Sharon won elections for prime minister Feb. 6, but his efforts to form a unity government were thwarted when outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak declined this week to personally participate in a coalition.
Mr. Powell will have plenty of other issues to deal with while the Israelis sort out their problems:
In Syria, he will meet with President Bashar Assad, son of the late Hafez Assad, and call him to account for reportedly allowing Iraq to ship oil via a pipeline to a Syrian port in violation of the U.N. sanctions.
In Saudi Arabia, he will urge the rulers to increase oil production so as to hold down prices and reduce the chance of a global recession. He also must assure the Saudis the United States will not pull out of the region and leave the Gulf states to deal with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein alone.
In Kuwait, Mr. Powell must assure the leaders that the United States will continue to defend the oil-rich mini-state against Iraqi threats to invade it again.
In Jordan, Mr. Powell will tell new King Abdullah that he must resist Iraqi pressure and continue to support international sanctions, even as Jordan receives smuggled Iraqi oil due to its need for affordable energy.
Throughout the Arab world, Mr. Powell must persuade leaders and the public that sanctions can be used to get Iraq to allow monitoring of its suspected weapons programs without hurting ordinary citizens.
Mr. Powell said yesterday in Washington that the sanctions had reduced Iraq's ability to threaten its neighbors.
"Containment has been a successful policy, and I think we should make sure that we continue it until such time as Saddam Hussein comes into compliance with the agreements he made at the end of the war," Mr. Powell said. "But we have to find ways to do it, to not hurt the Iraqi people."
Mr. Powell, who will discuss the sanctions during meetings with NATO leaders in Brussels on his way home from the Middle East next week, said the no-flight zones enforced by U.S. and British planes "keep Iraq from being the aggressor against its own citizens," a reference to the Kurds in the north and Shi'ites in the south.
"As long as we believe that mission is necessary, then we're going to protect our pilots," he said.

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