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Powell Promises U.S. Monitors if Truce Is Reached

Mideast: Secretary, on high-stakes peace mission, will arrive earlier than planned and is to meet with Arafat.

April 10, 2002|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CAIRO — On the second leg of his Mideast diplomatic rescue mission, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell held talks Tuesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and pledged that the United States will offer to deploy American observers between Israel and the Palestinians if the two sides agree to a cease-fire.

Key Arab leaders are insisting on an observer force as a condition for supporting the Powell mission, but Israel has at various times either rejected the idea or called for the mandate and makeup of such a force to be limited.

In a reflection of the growing sense of urgency behind the mission, the secretary is now planning to arrive in Israel on Thursday, a day earlier than originally scheduled, after stops in Europe and Jordan. Powell has built his trip around winning broad Arab and international backing for what he called "a powerful message" to take to both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat when he reaches Jerusalem.

Powell confirmed Tuesday that he intends to meet with Arafat. He said his mission is open-ended, with no set departure date.

He also revealed that the United States has reached out to Syria and, through intermediaries, to Iran to help prevent the crisis from spilling over into Lebanon, where Hezbollah guerrillas have been engaged in sporadic cross-border firefights with Israeli troops on two fronts. The United States has asked both Syria and Iran, which provide aid to and have influence over the Lebanese militia, to help "contain" the attacks, he said.

But Powell conceded that the Arab world is more enraged each day that Israel is not heeding U.S., U.N., European and other international calls to end its military incursion into Palestinian territory.

The secretary telephoned Sharon on Tuesday and pressed him again to act faster to pull troops and tanks from Palestinian areas. Powell said Sharon replied that he is anxious to conclude the operation and remains committed to negotiations, although the prime minister offered no timetable.

"We must expedite the end of this operation and the withdrawal," Powell said.

Credibility Under Fire

But after 13 Israeli soldiers were killed Tuesday in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank--the deadliest incident to hit the Israeli military since the Palestinian uprising erupted more than 18 months ago--Sharon announced that the incursion would continue, dimming the hopes for an imminent cease-fire.

With each day that passes, the credibility of both Sharon and the Bush administration comes under new fire. In talks with Saudi, Moroccan and Egyptian leaders, Powell has confronted criticism of Israeli defiance and deepening alarm about its long-term consequences for the region and the world.

"All of us stand to lose if this situation goes unabated," Egyptian presidential spokesman Nabil Osman said Tuesday.

Powell acknowledged hearing tough warnings.

"I wasn't stunned by what I heard, but I heard it in spades from everyone I talked to," he told reporters on his plane.

Powell has tried to assuage the concerns of Arab leaders during his trip by supporting their four principal demands: an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territory, the deployment of U.S. monitors, the rebuilding of Palestinian institutions destroyed by Israel, and talks on a political solution to the Mideast conflict occurring simultaneously with discussions of long-term security arrangements.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries have been pressing Powell this week for U.S. monitors to help sustain peace if a cease-fire is achieved and "to see what happened is not repeated," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said at a joint news conference with the secretary.

Powell said Washington is willing to offer monitors, although there appears to be a gap between how the Arabs and the United States view a monitoring force.

"Once we get into a cease-fire . . . the United States is prepared to put U.S. observers on the ground. That would help with the confidence-building, the restoring of trust between these two sides--get us back to where we were a few years ago," Powell said at the news conference.

President Bush first signed on to the idea of sending U.S. observers--under appropriate circumstances--during a summit of the Group of 8 industrialized nations in Italy last summer. But the administration envisions observers as primarily nonmilitary personnel serving largely to monitor activity and provide counsel in the event of problems, Powell told reporters traveling with him en route to Spain for talks with his European counterparts.

"We might draw from our diplomatic presence or send someone from State or other agencies that could monitor activity and performance. . . . But this is not an interim force to keep people from shooting each other," he said.

Powell Sees Much Work

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