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Powell 'pleased' with Palestinian election preparations

U.S. secretary of state meets with Israeli, Palestinian leaders

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, right, greets U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell before their talks Monday in Jerusalem.
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U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell meets with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
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JERICHO, West Bank (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell met separately Monday with Israeli and Palestinian leaders for the first time since the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

New Palestinian Authority elections are set for January 9. "I'm pleased with the level of coordination and cooperation that exists between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to make sure those elections can be held," Powell said at a news conference.

Earlier Powell met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei, acting President Rawhi Fattuh and Mahmoud Abbas, the newly appointed head of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Powell said the Palestinians leaders had expressed concerns that candidates be allowed to campaign freely around the Palestinian territories and that Palestinians in Jerusalem be allowed to vote.

"Israeli authorities said to me earlier they would do everything they can to permit freedom of movement and access for candidates as well as for voters on election day," Powell said. "Both sides seem confident they can work out the question of people living in Jerusalem to have their ballots counted as well."

Powell said both sides believe the Palestinian Authority elections held in 1996 would be a good model for the upcoming campaign.

Israeli troops are deployed across the territories, Israel says, to combat possible attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups.

Palestinians seeking to go from one area to another are required to go through Israeli checkpoints.

Powell said the Palestinians have "financial needs" that he plans to discuss Tuesday when he is scheduled to meet with other members of the so-called Mideast Quartet in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

The quartet -- made up of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia, is the broker of the so-called "road map" plan for an eventual end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It calls for Israeli and Palestinian concessions that would lead to an independent Palestinian state.

Powell said he discussed reforms with the Palestinian leadership, including the consolidation of security forces, which Arafat had resisted.

Arafat, 75, died in a French hospital of an unknown illness on November 11. (Full story)

Israeli and U.S. leaders had accused him of not doing enough to prevent terrorist attacks against Israeli targets.

Powell said it was essential "to make sure terrorists are not permitted to stop the process."

Powell said he was assured that the Palestinian Authority was working with all Palestinian groups, including those with a history of violence, to involve them in the political process.

Powell said assisting the Palestinians in holding a "good, solid election ... gives us the opportunity to re-energize the road map process." He added there can be no "jumping around" and that the road map must be followed as written.

Powell has not been in the region for 18 months. He said that while the make-up of President Bush's second-term administration would be different, Bush's commitment to a Palestinian state has not changed.

Earlier, in talks with Israeli officials in Jerusalem, Powell said, "This is a moment of opportunity as we look forward to the Palestinian elections that will be held on the 9th of January.

"We want to do everything we can, working together, to see that these elections are held in a peaceful way and give the Palestinian people a new opportunity to move forward. The terror must be ended; the violence must be ended."

Powell began Monday by meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and then Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

After the meetings, Shalom announced Israel will do everything it can to ease conditions for Palestinian elections.

"The first priority is the Palestinian elections which will hopefully bring about a Palestinian leadership with whom we can sit down and address all the issues on our agenda," Shalom said.

"These elections are an internal Palestinian matter, but I have reassured the secretary today that Israel will do everything in its power to ensure their smooth running."

Powell announced last week that he was resigning his post, though he will remain as secretary of state until his successor -- possibly national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, the nominee -- is confirmed by the Senate.

Powell told reporters he does not think his lame-duck status will hamstring his Mideast talks because "it is the president's policies that we are following."

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