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Powell holds Sharon accountable for stalemate

| Friday, May 16, 2003

BERLIN -- Stymied in his efforts to wring concessions from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a weary Secretary of State Colin Powell is looking to President Bush to break the stalemate when he meets with Sharon at the White House next week.

"We continue to have a difficult situation in the Middle East," Powell said Thursday in Bulgaria. The secretary had talks Sunday with Sharon in Jerusalem and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in Jericho.

Powell made clear that he held Sharon accountable for the impasse. "We can't just stay where we are," Powell said. "We can't miss this moment of opportunity. And so that is my report to President Bush."

Sharon plans to meet with Abbas on Saturday night. The White House session is set for Tuesday.

"We're at a moment of opportunity," Powell said, adding that he had sent several messages to Bush since the weekend discussions with Sharon and Abbas.

The Palestinian leader accepted a blueprint, or road map, for peacemaking with Israel that is to lead to establishment of a Palestinian state in 2005. The plan would end 31 months of conflict, commit both sides to ending violence and freeze construction of homes for Jews on the West Bank.

Also, Israeli outposts built on the land the Palestinians are eyeing for their state would be dismantled.

Sharon did not explicitly accept the road map, which the United States developed with the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. But he agreed to take steps to ease travel restrictions on Palestinian workers and to free dozens of Palestinian prisoners.

Powell said he considered that a move toward putting the plan in place. But Sharon has since said that he does not see dismantling Jewish settlements on the horizon.

"This is the time for both sides to be prepared to make compromises, to step forward, to take steps that will move us down a path of peace," Powell said.

The secretary said he hopes that in Sharon's meetings with Abbas and Bush that "people will be able to clarify their positions, they will find a way to go forward."

On another front, Powell signaled that the Bush administration may be prepared to consider a compromise with Russia, France and Germany on freeing Iraq of U.N. economic penalties.

France, with Russia's backing, seeks only a suspension of the sanctions. Russia also wants to resume U.N. searches for banned weapons in Iraq. The United States finds that unnecessary, having sent American experts to look for such weapons. Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction was the administration's prime rationale for the war.

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