- (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
- "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,"
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- "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
- 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,"