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Powell Heads Into Middle East To Propose New Peace Accord

By Robin Wright
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- jerusalem

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell arrived here late Thursday to launch the critical phase of his long-shot Middle East peace mission -- and test a new strategy to try to overcome the dangerous hostilities and deep rage between Israelis and Palestinians.

Powell, past master of military strategy and current maestro of U.S. foreign policy, will need to tap both skills to pull off anything that leads to either a lasting cease-fire or an agreement from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to face each other across a peace table.

Even U.S. officials acknowledge that the deck is stacked against Powell. “Getting those two back into a real peace process makes getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait look comparatively straightforward,” said an administration official, referring to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Powell served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Powell’s new strategy calls for a new timetable that eliminates what is known as sequence -- a cease-fire followed by political talks -- thus addressing the demands of all parties to the conflict at the same time.

The central problem is that the Israeli government doesn’t want to talk peace until suicide bombings cease and the security situation is stabilized. And the Palestinian Authority has been unwilling to rein in the violence without guarantees of a political process that will lead to an independent state in a reasonable time frame.

The most important shift in U.S. tactics over the past week, Arab leaders say, is Washington’s recognition that it must accelerate the political process and not leave it until the end, as Israel has stipulated. Arab leaders, whose role is critical in the effort to persuade Arafat to cooperate, are backing the Palestinian demand.

“We are not going to lift a finger to pressure Arafat until we are convinced there is a political process on the way -- a mechanism that translates the principle of a two-state solution into action,” said an Arab foreign minister who talked to Powell this week.