- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003

JERUSALEM — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell arrived in the Middle East yesterday to push forward a new “road map” for peace in the region and said the CIA and other U.S. agencies will help the Palestinians undertake security measures proposed in the plan.

At the beginning of his visit, Mr. Powell also said that, despite the road map’s controversy, there is a “solid agreement” on its initial stages in order to “get on with it.” It was his first visit to Israel and the West Bank in more than a year.

Under the peace plan, the first major task for the Palestinian Authority is to restructure its security apparatus and prevent more suicide bombings and other terrorist acts. The United States and Egypt already have offered assistance, and other countries and international groups are expected to follow suit, the secretary said.

“The agency is prepared to help — they are already talking to” the Palestinians, he told reporters traveling on his plane, referring to the CIA. “There may be other agencies of the United States government … or other international agencies who have experience, knowledge and capacity in security matters, police matters, that might be able to play a role.”

Mr. Powell did not offer more details but said that he would discuss specific ideas today during his first meeting with the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas. The location of the meeting was changed from Ramallah to Jericho for what officials called security reasons.

Ramallah houses the headquarters of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader with whom Washington refuses to deal anymore.

The secretary, who said he concluded during their last meeting in April 2002 that Mr. Arafat should be sidelined, said he would not visit him this time.

The road map was written in November by the so-called Quartet for Middle East Peace — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — but was not released until after Mr. Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, and his Cabinet were confirmed by the Palestinian legislature on April 29.

It requires Israel to withdraw its troops from the Palestinian territories, remove Jewish settler outposts and stop expanding established settlements on West Bank and in Gaza areas occupied in the 1967 war.

The Palestinians generally accept the road map, but the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been trying for weeks to persuade the Bush administration to make at least 14 changes.

For example, Israel argues that the plan does not provide for verification of the steps the Palestinians take.

“People can comment on the road map as we move forward, but let’s not allow any comment period that might be upcoming to stop us from moving forward,” Mr. Powell said. “The road map is controversial. There are elements one party or the other might not like.

“We know what has to be done in the very first steps of the first stage, so let’s get on with it,” he said. “It’s pretty clear: action on security on the Palestinian side, and on the Israeli side, doing everything they can to ease closures, ease the difficulties that the Palestinian people have in moving around.”

Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr said the Palestinians would fulfill all their obligations to crack down on anti-Israeli groups. “We hope that the United States will play a serious role … in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state and will push Israel to accept the road map,” he added.

However, Israel is only “prepared to make humanitarian gestures toward the Palestinians if they put an end to incitement, terrorism and violence against Israeli citizens,” Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters after a meeting with Mr. Powell last night.

Both sides should not “gloss over” difficult issues, such as the right of return for Palestinians who claim to have been expelled from Israel, Mr. Powell said, and not let them be a “roadblock to getting started.”

Israel insists that the matter be resolved before the road map is implemented.

On his plane, Mr. Powell cited as a positive element Mr. Sharon’s apparent decision to drop Israel’s longtime demand that all violence against Israelis must end as a condition to move ahead.

“I haven’t heard Israelis talk of total calm,” the secretary said. “They are saying they are looking for a lot of effort and intent” by the new Palestinian leadership to crack down on such groups as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, he said.

In addition to Mr. Abbas, Mr. Powell is also scheduled to meet today with Interior Minister Mohammed Dahlan and other members of the new Palestinian Cabinet. Before going to Jericho, he will talk with Mr. Sharon, Israeli President Moshe Katzav and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

He travels tomorrow to Egypt and Jordan for meetings with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah, respectively. On Tuesday, he will visit Saudi Arabia before flying on to Moscow, where he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

President Bush, in a speech Friday, called for establishing a U.S.-Middle East free-trade zone within a decade.

He said that Mr. Powell and U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick will travel to the World Economic Forum in Jordan next month to push for further democratic reforms, intended to foster free trade in the region.

“Ultimately, economic success and human dignity depend on the rule of law and honest administration of justice,” Mr. Bush said as he selected Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to lead a forum on judicial reforms in the Middle East as a way to foster free trade with the United States.

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