Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Powell implores Arafat to quit as Palestinian chief


US Secretary of State Colin Powell appealed to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on Thursday to step aside for the sake of achieving his lifetime goal of a Palestinian state.

In an unusually personal tone, Powell told a press conference at the Foreign Press Center: "Mr. Chairman, how long can you wait?

"How long can you stay in this position where the Palestinian people are suffering, where it's difficult to go forward toward the objectives of the road map, where it's difficult to achieve what you say is your dream -- a state for the Palestinian people?"

The US and Israel call Arafat, the elected leader of the Palestinian Authority who has been a virtual prisoner in his Ramallah office since 2001, an obstacle to peace, and refuse to deal with him.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier pointedly opposed the US-Israeli boycott of Arafat in a speech to the UN General Assembly on Thursday.

He said France would continue to interact with "the elected and legitimate leaders -- all the leaders -- of this region."

Reporting on a meeting on Wednesday of Middle East peace mediators -- the US, Russia, the EU and the UN, Powell said they were growing tired of waiting for Palestinian reforms.

"There is a weariness in the international community to continue providing the kind of assistance (that) the Palestinians so desperately need unless we see some sort of political reform," he said.

Powell said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and from a few settlements in the West Bank offered an opportunity to move forward but required Palestinian action on security.

Meanwhile, Powell churned through meetings with envoys in New York for the UN General Assembly, adding another first to his tenure on Thursday by meeting with Libya's foreign minister.

It was the first time an American secretary of state had met with a Libyan envoy since at least the 1970s. Powell's session with Foreign Minister Abdurahman Shalgam at a hotel followed US President George W. Bush's revocation last week of the trade embargo on Libya and other steps in return for Tripoli's dismantling its unconventional weapons pro-grams. After the meeting, a senior State Department official said that Powell discussed Libya's "positive" moves but also how it can further improve relations with Washington.

The US continues to have "serious concerns" that Libya may have plotted to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and about human rights abuses in Libya.

Last year, Libya agreed to compensate families of the 270 victims who died in the crash in Lockerbie, Scotland, of Pan Am Flight 107, which was blown up by Libyan terrorists, and to dismantle its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs as demanded by the US.

As Libya has followed through on its pledges, the US has gradually lifted sanctions and stepped up contacts with the Libyan leader-ship. However, because Libya remains on the State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism, it is barred from receiving imports with military and security applications, and Libya and the US do not have full diplomatic relations.

In other developments, Powell met with Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. A senior State Department official said Powell raised concerns about recent steps by President Vladimir Putin on the political process in Russia, but he gave no details.

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