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Powell: Palestinian reforms essential

Attacks darken latest talks; Tenet to return to region

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that reforms are needed within the Palestinian Authority.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Bush administration officials pushed ahead with their Mideast diplomatic efforts Wednesday, planning to meet with Jordan's king, while calling for reforms within the Palestinian Authority.

At the same time, they braced for fallout from Tuesday's suicide bombing in Israel that claimed 15 lives and injured 60.

After meeting with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Secretary of State Colin Powell said terrorist acts are putting prospects for peace in the Middle East at risk and harming political efforts to achieve that goal.

"Every time one of these events happens, it takes us off the course we were on for a while," Powell said. "But it is a course that, ultimately, we have to get back to because no matter how many military operations one conducts, or how many suicide bombs are delivered, at the end of the day we have to find a political solution."

Another topic of their discussion, said Powell: change within the Palestinian Authority.

"We talked about the need to see reform in the Palestinian Authority, and we will be discussing it with the Palestinian leaders," Powell said.

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No discussion had been held with the Israelis on whether reforming the authority would be a "precondition for something else," Powell said.

More bombings

Underscoring Powell's and Straw's talk was the suicide bombing at a billiard parlor in Rishon Letzion, an Israeli coastal city. The bombing came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was meeting in Washington with Bush.

A second bomber wounded himself and two others Wednesday at a bus station about 3 miles (5 kilometers) southwest of Afula, Israel. Police said the bomber's explosives may have gone off prematurely.

Early Thursday morning, Israel's security cabinet authorized the government to retaliate for the bombing. (Full story)

Powell, who was at the White House Tuesday when Bush and Sharon got word of the Rishon Letzion bombing, called on Palestinians to "do everything they can" to put an end to the bombings.

"We ask all others to condemn them and [ask] all others who have any hope for a peaceful life in the future for the Palestinian people to do everything they can within their power to stop this terror and stop this violence," Powell said. "We must keep moving forward. We must find a way through this crisis."

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in one of the strongest statements he has ever made, also condemned the bombing. In a taped broadcast on Palestinian television, Arafat said he was ordering Palestinian security forces "to confront and prevent any terror attack against Israeli civilians from any Palestinian side."

Powell said he expects CIA Director George Tenet to return to the region next week, "and it also remains part of our agenda to find a political way to go forward."

Reform 'heart of the matter'

Earlier, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer reiterated the administration's support for reforming the authority. "It is time for the Palestinian Authority to reform. That is what the president is watching," Fleischer said. "That is the heart of the matter."

Appearing with Sharon at a brief Tuesday night news conference, Bush offered some details of the proposed Palestinian reforms.

"One of the things that is important, the prime minister discussed this as well, is for us to immediately begin to help rebuild a security force in Palestine that will fight terror, that will bring some stability to the region," Bush said.

The authority needs to be reformed, Sharon said.

"We emphasized about the need for reform in the Palestinian Authority, and I think that's very important," Sharon said.

Reforms, said Bush, need to include "other institutions, a constitution for example, a framework for development of a state that can help bring security and hope to the Palestinian people and the Israelis."

Still 'relevant'

Meanwhile, Arafat found support from Jordan's King Abdullah II, who said the Palestinian leader is still crucial to achieving peace in the Middle East. Sharon has indicated his government would no longer deal with Arafat.

"He is the symbol and representation of the Palestinian people," said the king, who was to meet Wednesday night with Bush.

A key player in Middle East diplomacy, Abdullah earlier in the day made the rounds on Capitol Hill.

"We are here in Washington to see what we can do," the king said during a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "I think we can do a lot to try and move the process forward, to give Israelis and Palestinians a hope that they can break the cycle of violence and have a future where everybody can live in peace and harmony together."




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