Powell Sees Arab Anger, Increases
Call For Israel Pullout

(AFP) - US Secretary of State Colin Powell got a first-hand taste of Arab anger over the plight of the Palestinians as he opened the first leg of a high-stakes Middle East peace gambit in talks with Morocco's King Mohammed VI.
Mindful of overwhelming Arab sentiment against Israel's ongoing military operations in the Palestinian territories, Powell renewed thus far fruitless US calls for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to wrap up the offensive.
But he appeared slightly taken aback when King Mohammed asked him bluntly why he was not traveling to Jerusalem until the end of this week, a full eight days after President George W. Bush announced he was dispatching Powell to the Middle East to quell Israeli-Palestinian violence.
"The president wants to see this operation brought to end and for withdrawals to begin as soon as possible and the president meant 'now'," Powell said after his meeting with Mohammad in the southern coastal town of Agadir.
"We understand that Israel has a right to self defense, but Israel also has to take into account the implications of its actions in a broader context," Powell told reporters.
"The strategic problems that are created by this continuing operation are rather significant and severe when you see what's happening throughout the rest of the Middle East and I hope that Prime Minister Sharon and his colleagues are taking this all into account," he said.
Powell, who left Agadir for Casablanca where he will see vacationing Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz later Monday, is attempting to forge a delicate international consensus for a vision of Middle East peace.
Critical to his efforts will be the support of moderate Arab states like Morocco, Egypt and Jordan, but also Saudi Arabia which was the driving force behind a peace proposal adopted last month by the Arab League.
But if his experience with the Moroccan monarch was any indication, Powell will face a tough sell as he heads to Egypt and then Spain on Tuesday before travelling to Jordan, Israel and possibly the Palestinian territories later in the week.
Even before their talks got formally underway, King Mohammed, sporting a large badge with photograph of the Dome of the Rock on it, made clear his position, questioning why Powell had decided not to begin his mission in Jerusalem.
"Don't you think it would be more important to go to Jerusalem first?", the king asked Powell as they shook hands and greeted each other in a pre-meeting photo-op of that kind that are usually filled with banal small talk.
The comments were a clear sign of Arab concern that Powell will not only fail to reverse Israel's invasion of the West Bank, but that he is actually encouraging it by taking his time to reach Israel, giving Sharon time to continue the operation.
A written statement released by Moroccan officials said King Mohammed had also asked "that the United States spare no effort in getting an immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the Palestinian territories."
This would, it said, allow Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, to regain his liberty."
The statement said the king urged Powell to meet with Arafat, who is under tight siege by Israeli troops in his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah, saying that such talks "could determine the outcome of his mission."
But Powell sought to ease the concerns, restating the demands for Israel's withdrawal and noting that his itinerary was designed to win international backing for the US vision of the Middle East.
"I hope people who watch what I'm doing understand that it is important for me to prepare for such a trip to Jerusalem by consulting with Arab leaders, asking for their help in preparing my visit to Jerusalem," he told reporters when asked about the king's pointed question.
"When those pieces are in place, Im in a better position to go to Jerusalem as opposed to immediately going to Jerusalem without having down what I believe is appropriate preparation," Powell said.
He added that he had spoken with King Mohammed about ways in which Arab leaders could help ease the situation on the ground by calling on Arafat to speak out against anti-Israel violence.
"We had an opportunity to discuss the kind of messages that should be going back and forth between Arab leaders and Chairman Arafat," Powell said.

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