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Powell Urges Mideast Foes to 'Get On' With Road Map

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By Jonathan Wright
Reuters
Saturday, May 10, 2003; 4:00 PM

JERUSALEM, May 10 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell began a Middle East visit on Saturday by telling Israel and the Palestinians it was time to start putting into motion a U.S.-backed "road map" for peace.

There was no indication after talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom that Powell won agreement on implementing confidence-building measures under the plan presented after a reformist Palestinian prime minister took office on April 30.

"There is enough agreement on the road map that we can get started," Powell told a news conference ahead of meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday.

"There is a need to end violence now. There is a need to end terror now. There is a need to take some steps that will make life a little better for the Palestinian people," Powell said.

Sources close to Sharon said Israel would balk at any early relaxation of its military grip on Palestinians, as the road map prescribes, as long as they had not disarmed and jailed militant groups spearheading a 31-month-old uprising for statehood.

That message was underscored by Shalom, who told a joint news conference with Powell that Israel could "make more gestures towards the Palestinians" only once they moved against "the extreme organisations" planning to "implement terror."

Palestinian leaders have accepted the road map, envisaging a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by 2005. Israel has raised 15 reservations about the phased plan based on reciprocal steps.

Accusing Sharon's rightist government of trying to cripple a deal, Palestinians say only an early Israeli pullback from areas reoccupied after suicide bombings last year would give Abbas leverage to crack down on militants.

Powell said on the flight to Tel Aviv that he had come to gauge the two sides' stance on the plan but also "make sure they understand President (George W.) Bush's determination to move forward" following the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

FIRST VISIT IN MORE THAN A YEAR

Powell's first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in 13 months represented the most concerted Middle East peace initiative since the U.S.-brokered Camp David negotiations on Palestinian statehood unravelled in 2000.

Drafted by Washington, Russia, the European Union and United Nations, the road map's formula for implementation is reciprocity.

It requires Israel to pull back troops occupying or blockading Palestinian cities and towns, remove Jewish settler outposts and stop expanding established settlements on West Bank and Gaza territory Israel captured in a 1967 war.

But a source close to Sharon said the prime minister was ready now only for limited measures without a security risk, such as granting Palestinians more permits for work in Israel.

Sharon is to hold talks with Bush at the White House on May 20, a visit which Palestinians say undercuts Powell's trip.

Powell will meet Sharon in Jerusalem before going to see Abbas in Jericho. The venue was switched from Ramallah, headquarters of President Yasser Arafat whom Washington shuns and Israeli forces isolate over his alleged support of violence. He denies the accusation.

Palestinian officials said Abbas shifted the meeting to avoid "embarrassing" Arafat cooped up in his half-demolished compound.

REUTERS Reut15:59 05-10-03

© 2003 Reuters