Egypt Upbeat over Powell’s Mideast Mission
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher said in Washington on Thursday that his country looked forward to US Secretary of State’s Collin Powell's mission in the Middle East.
"We are very encouraged by the fact that (Powell) is going to the region next week because his personal involvement and the involvement of the United States government is extremely important in helping to see this process through," Maher was quoted by AFP as saying.
The minister called for Powell to press the parties to put into place and solidify as quickly as possible both the military measures contained in the truce agreement and the political steps in the report by the Mitchell commission, which was led by former US senator George Mitchell.
"We consider the two aspects -- the political aspect and the military aspect -- are linked," Maher said. "They have to be implemented as quickly as possible in order to ... bring the parties again to the negotiating table."
In a statement to Al Ahram Cairo-based daily, the minister stressed that Israel should stop settlement activity, lift the siege imposed on the Palestinians since the outbreak of the Intifada and free the financial assets due to the PA.
Echoing a Palestinian point of view, Maher said that all recommendations put forward by Mitchell and his colleagues should be dealt with “as one package.”
For his part, Powell a critical component for bringing the two sides back to talks was the creation of a timetable identifying when the Mitchell recommendations would be put into place.
However, he said the creation of such a schedule was not a prerequisite for his trip to the region which will be preceded by a visit there beginning Friday by William Burns, the assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said AFP.
"At some point, a timetable will be necessary ... but it is not a condition of my trip," he said.
There are "concrete pieces that are out there right now waiting to be connected," he told reporters after meeting Maher at the State Department.
"These pieces are starting to come together and it seemed appropriate to make a trip," said Powell, who heads to the region next week to press Israel and the Palestinians to take whatever steps necessary to return to the negotiation table.
Powell referred to the truce brokered last week by CIA chief George Tenet and the recommendations of the Mitchell commission, an international panel that called for the ceasefire followed by a cooling off period and then confidence-building measures before a resumption in peace talks.
"I hope to use those elements to keep the process moving forward," he said, adding that he was optimistic about his mission despite flare-ups of violence that have left 10 people dead since the truce was signed.
"I have seen some improvement in the situation with respect to security coordination," he said. "There has been some dropping (of) the level of violence although it is nowhere near the level we hoped for."
Earlier Thursday, the Israeli army acknowledged it had been given the green light to resume so-called "pinpoint attacks" against suspected Palestinian militants despite a government decision to uphold the truce, added AFP.
And violence erupted throughout the day in the Gaza Strip, where an Israeli soldier was reportedly wounded by a hand grenade thrown by Palestinians near the Israel-Egypt border.
Although his itinerary has not yet been finalized, Powell is expected to arrive in the region on Wednesday for talks in Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
"It seemed an appropriate time for me to go over, take a look on the ground, speak to the leaders in the region and make an assessment of where we are with respect to the (Tenet) plan and at what point might we (be) able to get started on the formal beginning of the Mitchell report recommendations," he said.
In announcing his decision to send Powell to the region on Wednesday, President George W. Bush said he wanted to press both sides "to work on an all-out effort to bring peace." – Albawaba.com
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