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Powell In Mideast, Pushing 'Roadmap'

Caption Secretary of State Colin Powell, left, meets Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in a hotel in Jerusalem Saturday May 10, 2003 as Powell's visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority begins. On Sunday, Powell will meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to begin implementation of the road map.
AP
Secretary of State Colin Powell talked Saturday of new signs of hope for progress toward a Middle East settlement based on the U.S.-inspired "road map" to peace. He said he has a message for Israel and the Palestinians: "Let's get on with it."

Powell flew in from Washington and was getting down to business immediately with a Saturday night meeting over dinner in his hotel suite with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. On Sunday, Powell and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are scheduled to confer in Jerusalem before Powell crosses into the West Bank for his first meeting with the Palestinians' new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

Before returning to Washington, Powell plans to meet with leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and, to discuss this month's U.S.-Russia summit meeting, President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Moscow.

Talking with reporters on his way to the Middle East, Powell cited as a positive element Sharon's apparent decision to drop his longtime insistence that all violence against Israelis must be shut down as a condition to move ahead.

"I haven't heard Israelis talk of total calm," Powell said.

"They are saying they are looking for a lot of effort and intent" by the new Palestinian leaders to stop terror attacks.

To this end, Powell said the CIA is in touch with Palestinian officials, and other U.S. agencies may provide help as well.

Powell said he intends to assess the anti-terror tactics being used by Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinians' security chief in his role as interior minister, when he meets with Dahlan and Abbas on Sunday.

In his meeting with Sharon, Powell said, he will press for looser Israeli restrictions on the Palestinians' economic life and tell the prime minister that "settlement activity has to be dealt with."

The "road map," a blueprint prepared by the Bush administration with the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, prescribes a freeze of construction of homes for Jews on the West Bank and Gaza and a cutback in Israeli outposts there.

"The `road map' is controversial," Powell said. "There are elements one party or the other might not like."

But, he said: "We need to get started. People can comment on the road map as we move forward. Let's not allow comments to stop us. Let's get on with it."

Still, says CBS New Correspondent Robert Berger, while Powell will be pressing both sides to implement the roadmap, the gaps are wide, and it will take creative diplomacy to get someone to take the first step.

CBS News State Department Reporter Charles Wolfson says Powell isn't likely to come away with too many commitments. Sharon will be in Washington in the next two weeks and will meet with Mr. Bush at the White House, so no one is expecting him to give Powell much more than a general outline of the way Israelis see the situation.

One possibility, says Wolfson, is that Powell will be able to broker a meeting between Sharon and Abbas, something which has been discussed. Powell's trip would be considered a success if he could get the two to agree to meet formally. Such a meeting will take place, Wolfson says, and it must for any progress at all to take place. The only question is which leader will seem to be doing it more on his terms than on the other's.

The Palestinian Authority and U.S. officials in Jerusalem decided Saturday to move Powell's Sunday talks with Abbas and Dahlan from Ramallah, site of the Palestinian headquarters, to Jericho.

The move was to avoid expected demonstrations by members of authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement against Powell's visit.

The Bush administration has tried to marginalize Arafat, and the longtime Palestinian guerrilla and political leader will not participate in the meeting.

Asked if he had requested that Arafat stay away, Powell snapped: "Yes. I won't meet with Mr. Arafat."

Abbas, on the other hand, is expected by President Bush and Powell to work vigorously to curb violence and move the Palestinians toward greater democracy as part of the blueprint's projection of a Palestinian state by 2005.

President Bush is counting on Israeli-Palestinian peace to lead to major changes in the political, economic and other systems of other Arab nations.

"Ultimately, economic success and human dignity depend on the rule of law and honest administration of justice," the president said in a speech Friday in South Carolina. The United States will sponsor with Bahrain a regional forum in the fall to discuss judicial reforms, he said, and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has agreed to lead a team of American jurists to help get the program under way.

Mr. Bush also held out the prospect of extending U.S. free-trade benefits already enjoyed by Israel and Jordan to other nations in the region within a decade.

Powell met Friday with one of the regional leaders, the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Addressing reporters afterward, Powell said it was important for both sides to talk to one another to find the necessary initial Israeli-Palestinian solution. "Let us not go into another endless loop of discussions and negotiations," he said. He acknowledged the process won't be easy.

Powell also plans meetings this coming week with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The secretary then goes to Moscow for talks Wednesday with Putin and Ivanov.