Arabs urge Powell to act
CASABLANCA, Morocco (AP) — Secretary of State Colin Powell came under Arab pressure Monday to do more to halt Israeli incursions that have deepened in the West Bank despite President Bush’s fresh call for a swift pullback. “I meant what I said,” the president declared in the United States.
The king of Morocco bluntly told Powell on the first stop of his peacemaking mission that U.S. officials should focus on a withdrawal, saying, “Don’t you think it was more important to go to Jerusalem first?”
In response, Powell demanded “a clear statement from Israel that they are beginning to withdraw” from Palestinian-held territories and “to do it now.”
Powell said he had spoken to Bush and “he is expecting action. He is expecting efforts on the part of the Israeli authorities to start bringing this operation to some conclusion.” Powell spoke outside the king’s palace in Agadir in southern Morocco.
He said he also had asked the king to counsel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to halt violence against Israelis. The secretary said he hopes to see Arafat later in the week.
In Casablanca, Powell was holding a critical meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, whose land-for-peace proposal to Israel has been overshadowed by Israel’s thrust into the West Bank and by the heated Arab response.
Israel’s unyielding military presence is having “a significant and severe” impact, Powell said. “We have a very difficult situation in front of us. We want to see this operation brought to an end as soon as possible.”
Mohammed, the first leader to meet with Powell as the secretary began a trip aimed at halting the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, assured Powell that Morocco will be ready to act on Abdullah’s proposal “without any prior conditions” as soon as Israeli troops withdraw from the West Bank and free Arafat from confinement in Ramallah.
In Knoxville, Tenn., Bush said Mideast peace will require leadership by both sides, as Powell was urging Arabs to help him get a cease-fire and start Israel and the Palestinians toward peacemaking.
“The United States is firmly committed to achieving peace,” Bush said. “I meant what I said about withdrawal without delay, and I mean what I say when I call upon the Arab world to strongly condemn against terrorist activities.”
Also yesterday, special envoy Anthony Zinni met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and restated demands for an immediate withdrawal from the Palestinian territories.
Powell acknowledged Israel’s right to self-defense, adding, “But Israel also has to take into account the implication of its actions.”
Mohammed, long viewed as a moderating force in Israeli-Palestinian relations, urged Powell to spare no effort in seeking withdrawal.
When the king asked Powell why he didn’t go to Jerusalem first, the secretary responded that “we considered all options” but he wanted to go to Spain Wednesday to meet with European ministers before going to Jerusalem to hold talks with both Israelis and Palestinians.
The Moroccan king, speaking in English during a photo session, told Powell, “I wish you luck, because it is going to be difficult.”
Powell nodded his head slightly and acknowledged, “It is going to be difficult.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah, in an interview with CBS, said Powell must meet with Arafat or “it will show the Palestinian people and the Arab people that there is an unbalanced approach to dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue.”
Mohammed reminded Powell, who is seeking to swing moderate leaders behind U.S. peacemaking efforts, that Morocco is a member of a committee in charge of activating the peace initiative adopted recently by the Arab League, the royal palace said in a statement.
The palace statement said Mohammed reiterated Morocco’s “total condemnation of the deliberate Israeli military invasion” of Palestinian territories and “adamantly denounced the siege imposed on President Arafat and his collaborators.”