The newly-appointed US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said that the Middle East would remain a top American priority in the George W. Bush administration, reported Haaretz newspaper.
Powell was quoted as saying that he would closely follow developments in the region during the closing days of the Clinton presidency.
"It is absolutely a given that under a Bush administration America will remain very much engaged in the Middle East," he said.
US President-elect Bush nominated on Saturday Powell as his secretary of state, the first African-American to be named for the post in US history.
Clearly trying to strike a balanced view on the Middle East, he said the United States must also be sensitive to the aspirations of the Palestinians and to Arab states, according to the paper.
He said the two sides in the conflict would have to reach an agreement themselves. If they came up against difficulties along the way, the United States would do what it could to help them, but would not impose a solution.
Powell, who headed the US military machine during the Gulf War, said Iraq had not lived up to the obligations of the 1991 truce, which called for Baghdad to account for its weapons of mass destruction and arms technologies programs, reported AFP.
"They have not yet fulfilled those agreements and my judgment is that sanctions in some form must be kept in place until they do so," Powell said. "We will work with our allies to re-energize the sanctions regime."
Powell, 63, has played a major role in national security councils during the administrations of Ronald Reagan, Bush's father and - for several months - Bill Clinton, said Haaretz -- (Several Sources)
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