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Powell says Egypt, U.S. ties strong

Condemns bombing in Iraq that killed at least 68


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CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- After meeting with Egyptian leaders in Cairo, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell affirmed the nations will work together to address Sudan's humanitarian crisis, Mideast peace and security in Iraq.

Powell is en route to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he is scheduled to meet with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi on Thursday.

During a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abdul Gheit, Powell thanked Egypt for its offer to help train Iraqi forces. Powell also condemned a devastating bombing in Baqubah, Iraq, which killed at least 68 Iraqis, as "an attempt by murderers to deny the Iraqi people their dream."

"They're killing Iraqis for the purpose of denying Iraqis basic freedoms that the rest of the world increasingly is enjoying," Powell said.

Egyptians in Iraq have been kidnapped, partly because of Cairo's security commitment to Iraq. Momdoh Kotb, Egypt's third-highest ranking diplomat in Iraq, was released Monday after four days in captivity. His kidnappers blamed Egypt's policy for Kotb's abduction.

Egypt denies reports it paid a ransom for his release.

During their meeting, President Hosni Mubarak briefed Powell on a recent telephone call with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in which Mubarak urged him to unify Palestinian factions.

Powell said he wants Arafat to follow through on his pledge to cede control of security services to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei.

"I told him [Mubarak] that once again, we were anxious to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Israeli plan to withdraw from Gaza and to begin withdrawal from the West Bank," Powell said. "But in order to take advantage of this opportunity we needed to see responsible action on the part of Palestinians."

Speaking as he traveled to Cairo from Budapest on Tuesday, Powell called Arafat "a master of the ambiguous statement" and demanded he act on his promise to cede control to Qorei.

Regarding the Darfur humanitarian crisis in Sudan, the Egyptian foreign minister stressed the "importance of giving some time to the Sudanese government." But Powell said: "These people do not have that much time."

Khartoum is accused of supporting Arab militias known as Janjaweed who have been accused of massive human rights violations against black Africans in Sudan's western Darfur region.

Gheit gave his assurance that Khartoum is "trying hard and we must assist them."

After his visit to Saudi Arabia, Powell heads to Kuwait and Poland before returning to Washington on Sunday, according to the State Department's Web site.

CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report.


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