Powell seeks revival of Mideast peace mission
JERUSALEM – Secretary of State Colin Powell embarked Sunday on a mission to revive the Middle East peace process after Yasser Arafat’s death, saying he will ask Israel to help with the upcoming Palestinian election to pick a successor.
Israel said it would consider pulling back troops from disputed areas in the West Bank.
On his way to the Middle East, Powell told reporters on his plane that U.S.-Palestinian cooperation in setting up the elections “will encourage a degree of cooperation that can spread into other areas.”
“This is a moment of opportunity,” Powell said. “I’ll be encouraging both sides to do everything they can to make sure that this election comes off and that the maximum number of Palestinians get the opportunity to participate.”
He said there were “many things” the Israelis could do to help, and he will discuss them during a meeting today with Israeli officials.
Powell arrived in Israel hours after Assistant Secretary of State William Burns held talks with both sides, becoming the first senior U.S. diplomat to meet with top Palestinians in several months. Powell has separate meetings scheduled with Israeli and Palestinian officials today.
The visits are part of an international push for progress toward a new Israel-Palestinian accord after Arafat’s death Nov. 11 and ahead of Jan. 9 elections to pick his successor as president of the Palestinian Authority. The United States and Israel boycotted Arafat, charging he was tainted with terrorism.
“I am here to stress strong American support for the Palestinian election,” Burns said after meeting interim Palestinian Authority President Rauhi Fattouh in the West Bank city of Ramallah.