The Washington Post

Paul Wong
Secretary of State Colin Powell accuses Israel of stalling the Mideast peace process yesterday in Louisville, Ky.<br><br>AP PHOTO

LOUISVILLE Secretary of State Colin Powell made his first major rhetorical foray into the Middle East conflict yesterday, repeating American insistence on an immediate end to the 14-month-old violence between Israel and the Palestinians while raising expectations of greater U.S. engagement in peacemaking.

After nearly a year of limited diplomatic involvement by the Bush administration in the region, Powell delivered a much-anticipated speech promising “active American engagement”” and announcing he would be dispatching two senior envoys to the Middle East this weekend to help broker an elusive cease-fire.

It remained unclear, however, whether Powell”s remarks, which the State Department billed as a major statement of Middle East policy, herald the debut of a concerted diplomatic push by a wary administration or will soon amount to empty oratory.

Though Powell”s speech held out the promise of a revitalized U.S. role, it offered no new diplomatic plan. He instead urged the two sides to follow the recommendations earlier this year of an international committee headed by former Sen. George J. Mitchell (D-Maine), calling for an end to violence followed by measures to restore mutual confidence and a return to negotiations over a political settlement.

Powell sought to reinvigorate the stymied peace process by reminding Israelis and Palestinians of steps they needed to take to rebuild the sense of hope shattered by the unsuccessful Camp David summit last year. And he looked beyond the current bloodletting, asking both sides to take up the long-term issues that divide them, such as the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, with restored U.S. support.

“The Middle East has always needed active American engagement for there to be progress, and we will provide it just as we have for over half a century,”” Powell told 1,200 faculty members, students and community leaders at the University of Louisville.

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