- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

MADRID Secretary of State Colin L. Powell rallied U.N. and European support for his Middle East peace mission yesterday but angered Israel by insisting on meeting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat later this week.
The United States and Israel remained at odds over the Israeli military operation in the West Bank, with Mr. Powell and the European allies calling for an immediate withdrawal and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon saying the incursion would continue. Mr. Powell arrives in Israel tonight after a brief visit to Jordan.
Mr. Powell, seeking to win international support as he wends his way to Israel, met in Madrid yesterday with officials including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the foreign ministers of Russia and the European Union.
In the process, he headed off European plans to impose economic and military sanctions against Israel, buying more time for his diplomatic mission. In their place, he won European agreement to a relatively moderate statement calling on Israel to withdraw only from "Palestinian cities, including Ramallah," where Mr. Arafat remains confined to a few rooms in his headquarters.
"We understand the difficult situation that Israel finds itself in, but we believe that the best way to relieve this tension, the best way to move forward and provide a solution to the crisis that we find ourselves in, is for the withdrawal of Israeli forces," Mr. Powell said at a news conference.
However Israel remained upset at the secretary's insistence on holding a meeting with Mr. Arafat, tentatively on Saturday, with Mr. Sharon calling the decision "a tragic mistake."
Mr. Powell urged Israel to ease the restrictions on Mr. Arafat in Ramallah so that he can communicate more easily with other Palestinian leaders. "He is the partner that Israel will have to deal with," Mr. Powell said.
He made clear that Arab leaders with whom he has been talking this week are unwilling to intervene to help push Mr. Arafat toward a cease-fire and an end to suicide bombings until Mr. Powell has met the Palestinian leader in person.
Mr. Powell hopes to achieve a cease-fire, clearing the way for security talks and, on a "parallel track," substantive negotiations that could lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Mr. Powell has also said the United States would provide observers to monitor a cease-fire.
Indicating that the Europeans were willing to support the American approach, Mr. Powell said: "In due course, I'm sure that we will let the whole world know what we believe is the proper way to go forward."
A joint statement, read on behalf of the whole group by Mr. Annan, urged both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to "cooperate fully" with Mr. Powell's mission and for both sides to back "continuing efforts to restore calm and resume a political process." The statement also called for "an immediate, meaningful cease-fire."
There was also an unusually blunt by European standards call for Mr. Arafat to "undertake immediately the maximum possible effort to stop terror attacks against innocent Israelis."
It added: "We call on the Palestinian Authority to act decisively and take all possible steps within its capacity to dismantle terrorist infrastructure, including terrorist financing, and to stop incitement to violence."
This formulation, coupled with the communique's condemnation of terrorism as "illegal and immoral," was seen as an American success by European observers here.

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