Over a four-day trip, Powell will make stops in seven countries plus the would-be state of Palestine.
America's top diplomat will meet so many dignitaries and reporters that he will need a scorecard to follow along; the trip is sure to be a blur of motorcades into and out of palaces, government guest houses, official residences and hotels.
Secretary Powell, by one count, is expected to spend time with four presidents, one prime minister, one prime minister-elect, two kings, two crown princes, one emir and at least ten of his fellow foreign ministers.
Cairo is stop number one. Before he sees his Egyptian hots, however, Powell will meet with another visiting foreign minister, Russia's Igor Ivanov, who is also visiting Egypt.
The two men have spoken on the phone several times, but this will be their first meeting. There is much on the agenda but the central issues will be the Bush administration's plan for a missile defense shield which Russia opposes and America's concern over Russia's continuing cooperation with Iran on missile proliferation.
With Arab leaders in Cairo, Amman, Damascus, Riyadh and Kuwait the conversation will focus on Iraq and a new U.S. effort to consult with allies and formulate a workable policy to reinvigorate the international sanctions now in place but under increasing strain.
Powell will deliver the same message President George W. Bush stated this week: "We expect him (Saddam Hussein) not to develop weapons of mass destruction; and if we find him doing so, there will be consequences."
Powell will probably also get an earful from his hosts on the excessive power, as they see it, that Israel's army is using to put down Palestinian protests over the past few months.
In Jerusalem and Gaza Powell would ideally like to talk about the peace process and move it forward. Instead, he'll be looking for a formula to get both sides to back off the ongoing confrontation. Senior U.S. officials do not expect any real progress until the newly elected Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, is able to form a government.
Earlier this month, Powell himself admitted he recognizes the limits of what he will be able to do, telling reporters that "Jaw-boning is not a bad term, and as a practical matter that's pretty much all we can do right now, and hope the leaders in the region recognize the absolute importance in controlling passions and controlling the emotions."
Ceremonies marking the tenth anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait will reunite Secretary Powell with other American leaders who led the allies' Gulf War coalition. Both former President George Bush and retired army General Norman Schwartzkopf will join Powell and the still-thankful Kuwaiti ruling family.
When Secretary Powell finally gets to his final stop, Brussels, Belgium, he'll have to shift gears one more time. At NATO headquarters Powell will talk to his European partners about U.S. plans for a missile defense system, one he will argue that does not threaten Europe. Iraq will also be discussed since several of our European allies are in favor of relaxing sanctions because they want to do more business with Baghdad.
Powell will race back to Washington just in time to listen to his boss, President Bush, speak to a joint session of Congress. It won't look good if he nods off in prime time, but if jet lag gets to him at least he'll have a good excuse.
By Charles Wolfson
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