Powell Arrives in Egypt on First Leg of Middle East Tour

Published February 24th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Cairo Saturday morning on the first leg of a whirlwind tour of the Middle East, said AFP. 

Powell's first engagement in Cairo will be to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. 

The controversial US plan to deploy an anti-missile national defense shield, to which the Russians are vehemently opposed, is expected to dominate the agenda at their talks, said the Washington Post newspaper. 

Powell will cut a broad swath through the region, cramming his tour into three days, in an attempt to shore up support for containing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and assess prospects for the stumbling Israeli-Palestinian peace track. 

Because of the spy scandal in Washington, US concerns about possible Russian arms to Iran, Moscow's renewed criticism to air strikes and sanctions on Iraq as well as Russia's continuing vehement opposition to US missile defense, ties between the nuclear giants are strained, said the Post. 

Russia has also evinced an interest in resurrecting its role in Middle East peacemaking efforts and Powell will sound out Ivanov on Moscow's intentions before immersing himself in a frenzied series of meetings with the region's principals, said the paper. 

The secretary will also be looking for Egyptian support in restarting dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians as well as Cairo's backing for re-energizing UN sanctions on Iraq with an eye toward easing commercial restrictions on Baghdad while tightening those on the military and technology sectors, said AFP. 

Powell then moves onto Jerusalem, where he is expected to see outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak late Saturday and Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon the following morning. 

Powell is expected to demand that Sharon ease the sanctions imposed on the Palestinians by Barak in an effort to snuff out the Intifada, said Haaretz newspaper. 

The Americans fear the total collapse of the Palestinian economy and the disintegration of the Palestinian Authority, said the paper. 

It added thatIsrael’s outgoing foreign minister, Shlomo Ben Ami cancelled his meeting with Powell. The two were scheduled to meet for a few minutes, mainly as a matter of protocol. Sources close to Ben Ami told Haaretz that he had felt insulted that he was not granted a longer meeting. 

Channel Two quoted Ben Ami as saying that he did not need a meeting with Powell in his curriculum vitae. He did not want a meeting just because protocol demanded it, the paper added.  

In response, US officials said that no slight to Ben Ami was intended and that they have the highest regard for the foreign minister.  

After Jerusalem, Powell will head to Gaza for talks with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, whom he will push to do more to control months of deadly violence that has effectively shattered peacemaking with Israel. 

The secretary is then to make a quick four-hour stop in Amman, where he will sound out Jordanian King Abdullah on Iraq and peace prospects for the region, said AFP. 

Later Sunday, Powell then moves onto Kuwait to attend a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the end of the Gulf War. 

He then travels to Damascus, one of the shortest stops on the tour, for about three hours of discussions with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Foreign Minister Faruq Shara where Iraqi policy and Israel are again to top the agenda, said AFP. 

From Syria, Powell will make another touch-and-go visit, flying into Riyadh for discussions with Saudi officials before heading the same day to Belgium, said the agency – Albawaba.com  



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