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Powell Aims to Move Beyond Mideast Ceasefire.

By David Gollust (VOA-State Department)

Secretary of State Colin Powell left Tuesday night for the Middle East on a mission aimed at shoring up the Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire and putting the parties on a path back to peace negotiations mapped out by the Mitchell committee report.

The Bush administration was criticized early-on for what was perceived as a retreat from the intensive Middle East role of former President Bill Clinton.

But in recent weeks, it has named William Burns as Middle East special envoy, sent CIA director George Tenet to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire, and has now dispatched Powell to the area try to convert the shaky truce into a cooling-off period leading to new peace talks.

Powell said the aim of his trip is to move the parties beyond the Tenet work plan to address the recommendations of the Mitchell committee: "There has been some dropping in the level of violence though it is no where near the level that we hoped for.

"So it seemed an appropriate time for me to go over, take a look on the ground, speak to the leaders in the region, make an assessment of where we are with respect to the work plan from George Tenet, and at what point might we be able to get started on the formal beginning of the Mitchell report unfolding the recommendations unfolding, beginning with the cooling-off period."

U.S. officials said the Secretary of State wants to set a timeline for implementing the Mitchell committee recommendations, starting with a limited cooling off period of a few weeks duration.

In its report released in May and accepted by both sides, the panel headed by former U.S. Senate Majority leader George Mitchell proposed a blueprint for the restoration of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

It calls for confidence-building measures by both sides including a crackdown by the Palestinian Authority on terrorism and anti-Israeli incitement, and a freeze on Israeli settlement activity, including the so-called "natural growth" of settlements.

At a Washington appearance Monday, Mitchell warned that another relapse into warfare could shatter what he called "the culture of peace" nurtured over the past decade.

He acknowledged the difficulty for Israel in accepting a settlement freeze, but said it was clear from the months of work by his committee that the issue is "foremost" in the minds of the Palestinians.

"In virtually every discussion we had, it was usually the first or second issue raised. I won't go into much more detail about that. It's an extremely complex subject with many nuances to it and there are valid points of view with respect to each of those nuances.

"However, we believe that the recommendation we made is the appropriate one. There have been freezes before. And we hope that the government of Israel will accept and act upon the recommendation. If they do, it will be a very significant step forward to rebuilding confidence and to resuming meaningful and serious negotiation."

Powell opens his Middle East mission with a meeting in Alexandria Wednesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak before going on to a series of meetings with leaders of the two parties, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority chief Yasir Arafat.

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Title Annotation:Colin Powell mission to Middle East
Comment:Powell Aims to Move Beyond Mideast Ceasefire.(Colin Powell mission to Middle East)
Publication:Israel Faxx
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 27, 2001
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