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Powell Struggling to Make Progress in Mideast

Powell’s comments came Tuesday after an hour-long meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. The secretary of state reportedly tried to convince Sharon to order a full military withdrawal from Palestinian cities in the West Bank.

Before meeting with Sharon, Powell told reporters that he was making progress.

“I look forward to furthering that progress over the next 24 hours, but I don’t want to get into specifics as to what I’ll be able to achieve and not able to achieve,” he told reporters.

According to White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer, President Bush spoke with Sharon on the phone and told him that ending the siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was one of Powell’s most urgent priorities.

Sec. Powell is set to meet with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat Wednesday before heading to Egypt, where he plans to meet in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key Arab moderate.

However, the leading Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, did not echo Powell’s hopeful tone.

“Our dilemma is the issue of reoccupation, and if Secretary Powell leaves this area while the Israeli occupation is continuing, this would be a severe dilemma,” he said.

Meanwhile, Powell has met with resistance from Palestinian allies Lebanon and Syria to Israel’s proposal for a Middle East conference that would exclude Arafat. Reaction from the European Union was mixed, with Italy endorsing the idea as long as the EU was included, but with French and British officials saying Arafat would need to be included in a high-level meeting.

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