- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

MEXICO CITY — The Bush administration will pursue an “aggressive” second-term foreign policy that will dispel the “overhang” cast over the first four years by Iraq and the wider mideast, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday.

Asked how he saw his own role in implementing such an agenda, Mr. Powell said only: “I’m very pleased to be secretary of state.” Nevertheless, he articulated the administration’s priorities authoritatively, confident he was speaking for President Bush.

“I understand the importance of Iraq. I understand the overhang that that and the Middle East has on how we are viewed in the world, and the impression that some people have of us,” Mr. Powell told reporters accompanying him on a one-day visit to Mexico.

“But it’s an impression that will change as we start showing our success, such as the kind of success we showed in Afghanistan,” he said in reference to that country’s elections last month.

Running through a long list of priorities, the secretary cited “first and foremost, the global war on terror,” mentioning particularly the efforts to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists believed to be hiding along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Mr. Powell next mentioned Iraqi elections slated for late January, noting that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan “has agreed to increase the size of the U.N. presence in Iraq, and we have been making arrangements to provide them the necessary security.”

Turning to the Middle East, the secretary was careful not to support any Palestinian leader who might succeed the gravely ill Yasser Arafat, whose death appears imminent.

At a later press conference in Mexico City, Mr. Powell said the United States “remains ready to engage with the Palestinian leadership, as the Palestinian leaders define that leadership, toward the president’s vision of two states living side by side in peace: Israel and the state of Palestine.”

Mr. Powell also talked about Washington’s alliances in Asia and Europe, its relations with Russia and China, and “the new strategic program that we have with India.”

“We will continue to press in Africa to resolve regional conflicts, Sudan being the one that’s uppermost in our mind,” he said. “But we’ll continue to do work to follow up on Liberia, to assist U.N. peacekeepers in Congo and to help the United Nations and our French friends in Cote d’Ivoire.”

Several people were killed and dozens wounded yesterday in Ivory Coast — Cote d’Ivoire in French — as angry crowds descended on French forces seeking to evacuate foreigners from an impending civil war.

Conspicuously absent from Mr. Powell’s list were Iran and North Korea, which along with Iraq formed the “axis of evil” defined by Mr. Bush in 2002.

Aides traveling with Mr. Powell warned against reading too much into those omissions, saying he had not had time to mention every issue on the administration’s agenda.

Asked later about North Korea, Mr. Powell said, “We are not doing anything right now but waiting for six-party talks to reconvene. …

“We go into these talks with a sense of trying to solve a problem, not just to stick to our talking points, and we will try to make sure that we approach such talks in the future within that same spirit, if there’s something to be flexible about,” Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Powell was in Mexico City for the 21st meeting of the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission.

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