CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – Secretary of State Colin Powell called yesterday for accelerated negotiations to establish a Palestinian state, even as he pressed for a cease-fire to Middle East violence between Israel and the Palestinians in the meantime.
Setting no deadline to complete his peace mission, Powell said he would meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as well as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon later this week in an effort to broker a truce.
“We are going to have to act more quickly,” he said, though adding, “I am prepared to stay for some while.”
Powell said the United States was prepared to contribute a small detachment of State Department or other civilian government employees to monitor any cease-fire agreement.
For the Bush administration, Powell’s emphasis on Palestinian statehood marks a shift in tactics. For more than a year, the administration has focused on establishing a cease-fire as a condition for deeper peacemaking.
But Powell said all the Arab leaders with whom he has met have underscored the urgency of getting started on an accord. And he said he would deal with Arafat as the representative of the Palestinian people.
Powell said he talked to Sharon yesterday and was told Israel would expedite its withdrawal of troops from the West Bank, where they are pursuing Palestinian militants. “The sooner the better,” Powell said.
“Time is of the essence” for ending the violence, he said after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Powell is seeking greater Arab participation in the peace process as well as an immediate end to Israel’s military offensive.
It was the first time Powell had said expressly that he would meet Arafat during his trip to Israel, where he arrives tomorrow night and plans talks with both sides through the weekend.
The Palestinian leader has been isolated by Israeli forces in his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Israel said it wouldn’t try to stop the Powell-Arafat meeting.
Earlier, Powell had hedged, suggesting he would meet with Arafat only “if circumstances permit.”
Powell said he had spoken to Sharon yesterday and the Israeli had reiterated “his commitment to bring this to an end as quick as he can.” Powell praised Israel for beginning to withdraw its troops from Palestinian areas but noted that fierce fighting persisted.
After 13 Israeli soldiers were killed in an ambush during heavy fighting in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, Sharon said in a nationally broadcast address that the Israeli offensive would continue.
In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush expects Israel “to withdraw and to do so now. … The president believes all parties still have responsibilities. He’s looking for results.”
Working to fill in the details of a U.S. vision for a permanent peace, Powell said political objectives must be pursued alongside talks to end the current violence. He told the Arabs they must acknowledge Israel’s rights.