- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday he has no plans to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the Mideast next week and kept up pressure on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
However, Mr. Powell said he was aiming at more than extinguishing the current fighting and would seek a "political settlement."
"The president's expectation is that the incursions will stop and the withdrawal process will begin as soon as possible or without delay, whichever formulation you choose, and it is not related to my trip," Mr. Powell said.
"The political dimension is key, and we have to bring it as far forward and as early into the process as is possible."
He did not specify when the Israelis should begin to pull out or whether a complete pullout was demanded by Washington before Mr. Powell arrives in five to seven days.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday that it could take time for Israel to end its offensive.
"Major events don't necessarily happen overnight," Mr. Fleischer told reporters traveling with President Bush in Texas.
Still, he said, "The president expects results, and he expects them as soon as possible."
In Crawford, Texas, Mr. Fleischer said that although Mr. Powell has "no plans" currently to meet with Mr. Arafat, he will have considerable leeway.
"The president has strong faith in Secretary Powell's judgments and discretion. And the Secretary is traveling with, as I indicated, maximum flexibility so he can have maximum influence."
Mr. Bush was at his Texas ranch to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The Bush administration has vigorously backed Israel's right to take action to defend itself from suicide bombers and other Palestinian attacks.
Israel yesterday continued to push on into new Palestinian towns and gave no sign it was ready to begin removing its tanks and troops from the West Bank.
Israeli Ambassador to Washington David Ivry said on Thursday that Israel expected to get out of the Palestinian cities. "But we have to do our work, and the job is over there such that Arafat is not doing his part by dismantling the organization of terror," he said.
"I can't say what the timing will be," he said on PBS' "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer."
"But I think the expectation [of the beginning of withdrawal] here is such that before Secretary Powell is going to come over there, this is the expectation here, which I understand."
Mr. Powell said President Bush "is asking Israel and the U.N. put this in the form of another resolution last night to cease operations and to begin the process of withdrawal."
"And it is the president's expectation that this will happen as soon as possible. And we will see what happens in the days ahead."
Mr. Powell's itinerary has not been formally announced, but he leaves Washington on Sunday.
Mr. Powell, who turned 65 yesterday, said his birthday celebrations would include "family plans, quiet."
Reporters sang "Happy Birthday," and he responded with a mock attempt to leave without making any comments.
Standing beside Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Jamil Muasher outside the State Department, Mr. Powell also praised Jordan's King Abdullah II for supporting the Saudi peace plan adopted by the Arab League in Beirut last month.
"Twenty-two nations have expressed their willingness to make peace with Israel in a collective way and to, in due course, have normal relations with Israel," Mr. Powell said.
That optimistic moment in recent Middle East history was rapidly eclipsed as a suicide bomber March 27 killed 26 Israelis at a Passover Seder and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon responded with the massive invasion of the West Bank that continued yesterday.
Asked whether he would meet with Mr. Arafat, Mr. Powell noted that the U.S. special envoy, Gen. Anthony Zinni, had met with the Palestinian leader yesterday so there was no logistical problems in such a meeting.
But he said, "There are no plans at this time. I plan to meet with as many leaders as I can in the region, reflecting all and representing all the points of view."

Joseph Curl contributed to this report.

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