Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed in talks with
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that an international
peace summit be convened to discuss the Middle East.
"I said we are ready to have a regional conference in which a
number of countries would participate: Israel, Egypt, the
Saudis, Jordan, Morocco and Palestinian representatives. It
doesn't have to be limited to these," Sharon said.
"The conference would be hosted by the United States. . . . I
estimate that within a short period of time the conference
will indeed convene," added Sharon, who first proposed the
idea before last month's Arab summit in Beirut and again in
the Knesset. It was not clear if heads of state would
participate in the conference or foreign ministers.
Sharon said after the meeting with Powell that his proposal
for a U.S.-hosted regional peace conference was acceptable to
the United States.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said that the White
House expects that Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia will
contribute to reaching a comprehensive peace treaty in the
Middle East. According to Card, the time has come for the
leaders of the aforementioned states to assist Arafat in
choosing the path of negotitions.
During the meeting held in Tel Aviv, the secretary of state
briefed Sharon on his earlier meeting with Palestinian
Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in Ramallah. Powell urged
Sharon to withdraw IDF troops from Palestinian areas.
Earlier, Powell met with President Moshe Katsav and former
Prime Minister Ehud Barak to discuss his talks with Yasser
Emerging from the three-hour meeting with Arafat in Ramallah,
Powell said he had "useful and constructive" talks with the
PA Chairman. There was no immediate indication, however, that
the meeting had brought an elusive truce any closer.
U.S. Secretary of State Powell was scheduled to pay
unscheduled visits to Beirut and Damascus on Monday as part
of his effort to bring about a cessation of hostilities in
the Middle East, the Lebanese government said.
His visit comes after a week during which Hezbollah has been
firing rockets on a daily basis at IDF posts in the Shebaa
Farms area in southern Lebanon, and Israel has responded with
artillery bombardments and airstrikes on Lebanon. The UN has
determined that the area is not part of Lebanon, but
Hizbullah disputes this.
The conference proposal is an apparent attempt by Sharon to
seize the initiative to influence the future course of
events. In order to be successful, it will have to be taken
up by others, especially the U.S. So far this has not