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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 20:14 GMT 21:14 UK
Powell plans to meet Arafat
Colin Powell (l) meets Hosni Mubarak before their meeting in Cairo
President Mubarak has been a key US ally
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said he intends to hold talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, on his current mission to the Middle East.

Speaking in Cairo after meeting President Hosni Mubarak, Mr Powell said the US was aggressively pursuing efforts to bring about a peace process that encompassed both the political and security needs of the region.

The United States is prepared to put US observers on the ground

Colin Powell
He said he believed the presence of the Israeli defence forces in the Palestinian areas had had a negative effect on relations between Israel and its neighbours, and on US-Israeli relations.

But Mr Powell praised the beginning of an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian areas, saying he hoped it was "the beginning of the end" of the region's violence.

Legitimate leader

As well as meeting Mr Arafat, the secretary of state will also hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when he travels to Israel on Thursday.

"I'm looking forward to conversations with the prime minister and I intend to meet with Chairman Arafat," Mr Powell said.

Colin Powell in Agadir
Powell has been criticised for not going straight to Israel

"The United States recognises that the Palestinian people view Chairman Arafat as their leader. It's up to the Palestinian people to decide who their leader will be, whether elected or otherwise," he added.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher repeated his own government's backing for Mr Arafat.

Mr Powell said he would talk to both leaders about securing a ceasefire and the future of a Palestinian state, saying that the US would "do everything within its power to bring an end to this violence".

Mr Arafat has been under siege in his headquarters in Ramallah since the Israeli army launched its current offensive on 29 March.

US credibility at stake

Mr Powell added that the US was prepared to deploy observers or monitors in the West Bank to help ensure a ceasefire.

"All of us know we must get to a political track... time is of the essence," he added.

Powell's itinerary

The US secretary of state arrived from Morocco, where his first host, King Mohammed VI, had asked bluntly why Mr Powell had not gone straight to Jerusalem.

And Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, who was visiting the north African country, warned that American credibility was collapsing as a result of the Israeli military operation.

Mr Powell had earlier told King Mohammed that he wanted to co-ordinate a plan with Arab and European allies before he visited Israel.

He gave a similar message to Crown Prince Abdullah, asking for Arab help to tell Palestinians that "violence is not the way to achieve our mutually desired goal of a Palestinian state".

Student protester killed

Violent protests against Israel and against Mr Powell's visit erupted around the country, with students shouting "No welcome to Powell!" and calling the US the "country of crime, terrorism, and betrayal".

One student was killed and more than 100 were wounded when the demonstrations turned into clashes with police.

The student died after being shot in the chest during a march by at least 8,000 Alexandria University students, police said.

See also:

08 Apr 02 | Middle East
US steps up pressure on Sharon
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