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U.S. pushes for progress in Mideast


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- U.S. officials were working the telephones Tuesday, trying to get Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to issue a clear denunciation of terrorism as Secretary of State Colin Powell continued to work with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

The White House continued to say that Powell is attempting to "create an environment in which political discussion can begin and be meaningful" but how that would be done remained unclear.

Aides were conceding that the secretary is unlikely to come away with the "road map" for a withdrawal from the West Bank he had sought from the Israelis or a cease-fire from the Palestinians.

Powell met alone Tuesday for an hour with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Neither leader made any statement after the meeting.

Powell is scheduled to meet with Arafat on Wednesday in Ramallah, West Bank, before leaving for to Cairo to brief Egyptian officials on his mission.

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 Powell's itinerary:
April 8: Powell begins his trip in Morocco, meeting with King Mohammed VI and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

April 9: Powell meets with Egyptian leaders in Cairo.

April 10: Powell meets with European Union leaders in Spain.

April 11: Powell stops in Jordan and meets with the country's king and Cabinet.

April 12: Powell meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Suicide bomber kills 6 in Jerusalem.

April 14: Powell meets with Arafat in Ramallah, West Bank, and with Sharon in Tel Aviv.

April 15: Powell meets with officials in Lebanon and Syria.

April 16: Powell to meet with Sharon.

April 17: Powell to meet with Arafat. Powell to travel to Cairo, Egypt, before returning to Washington.

Earlier Tuesday, Powell had said there would be a meeting between U.S. and Palestinian officials, but a Palestinian official said later that no meeting was held and none was planned.

The secretary wants Arafat to issue a clear denunciation of terrorism, a U.S. official said, while in talks with Sharon he has been asking but not demanding a "road map" for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

The official said the negotiations with the Palestinians have been difficult because a Palestinian precondition for a statement from Arafat is that the Israelis first withdraw. Because of new Israeli incursions Tuesday morning at Tulkarem and around Jerusalem, said the official, "It's not looking good."

The official said the Untied States is not using the word cease-fire with the Palestinians because it remains unclear "how much we can get." If a cease-fire isn't possible, he said, "we will settle for anything in a positive vein. We would rather have something that is not called a cease-fire than a cease-fire nobody listens to."

The official said everything hinges on how much Powell can achieve with Arafat on Wednesday.

"All hopes and expectations are pinned on Powell's meeting with Arafat," said the official. "All should become clear after we know what he is prepared to do."

Earlier Tuesday, Powell told reporters "we are making progress" but warned he could not say what might be accomplished before he leaves on Wednesday.

"We are making progress and I look forward to furthering that progress over the next 24 hours, but I don't want to get into specifics as to what I will be able to achieve and unable to achieve," Powell said.

Sharon spoke Monday with President George Bush about Bush's demand that the Israelis withdraw from territories it occupied during its offensive.

Monday, Sharon said Israeli troops would be out of Jenin and Nablus within a week, but they would stay in Ramallah and Bethlehem until standoffs end in those cites.

Also, Sharon said that when the Israeli troops pull out of the cities, they will remain in the West Bank, cordoning off the cities.

In his previous two meetings with Sharon, Powell has not been able to get the Israelis to give him a timetable for the end of "Operation Defensive Shield," their military operation in the West Bank.

On CNN's Larry King Live, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the Israelis had originally planned to stay in the territories three to four weeks. "Two-and-a-half weeks passed already, so the remaining time is not so long," he said. "I think it's a matter of days, not of weeks."

But Mohammed Rashid, an adviser to Arafat, said Sharon's delay in withdrawing has hurt U.S. credibility. Bush "said 'with no delay,' then he said 'immediately.' Then he said, 'I mean every word that I said,'" said Rashid. "When it comes to Israel, United States of America is a paper tiger."

Another idea Powell is working on is a proposal by Sharon for a regional conference to discuss an Arab peace plan for the Middle East. Sharon said he wants to meet with Palestinians leaders but not Arafat.

Arafat said he would attend if the Israelis withdraw from the West Bank.

Powell said Monday that he was considering a regional meeting of ministers to which Arafat would send a representative but not attend himself.

Sharon said he would send ministers to such a conference, saying the important thing is to discuss the plan -- which would trade normalized relations with the Arab countries in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands -- with Arab leaders.




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