Powell

WASHINGTON (AP) - In four fast-paced days, Secretary of State Colin Powell will hold talks in six countries in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and Europe, with an agenda as varied as his itinerary.

From soundings on prospects for renewal of Mideast negotiations and on sentiments for maintaining U.N. sanctions against Iraq, to a sensitive first meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Powell will get a sampling of responses on issues bound to persist through the Bush administration.

It is a trip so jammed with stops, meetings and, in Kuwait, ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the oil-rich Gulf nation's liberation from Iraqi annexation that Powell can only hope to outline some of the new administration's views and get a quick sense of how they are received.

The schedule is so crammed that only two hours are set aside for Syria and four for Saudi Arabia.

And yet, Powell's aides say he will deal with substance, delving into such issues as U.S. plans for a missile defense in his meeting with Russia's Ivanov in Cairo on Saturday, and Israel's economic squeeze on the Palestinians in his visit with Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Leaving Friday afternoon after participating in President Bush's talks at Camp David with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Powell is to return home Tuesday night, in time for Bush's address to Congress.

Along the way, he is scheduled to see, among others, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak; Ivanov; Sharon; Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat; King Abdullah of Jordan; President Bashar Assad of Syria; King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia; Lord Robertson, the secretary-general of NATO; and a string of European leaders at an alliance meeting in Brussels, Belgium.

It's jet-age diplomacy taken up by an administration whose advance billing suggested far more emphasis on such domestic programs as cutting taxes than on world engagement.

On one day alone, Saturday, after an all-night flight, Powell is to meet with Mubarak and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, then Ivanov, then fly to Israel before the night is over and meet with caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

In some ways, Powell's task has eased in the weeks the trip was being mapped. In others, it has grown tougher.

On the plus side, after months of complaining about the administration's plans to field a defense against missiles, Russia has begun to show a willingness to consider a shield to defend Europe.

Describing himself as pleased, Bush said at a news conference Thursday the Russians apparently "recognize that there are new threats in the post-Cold War era, threats that require theater-based, anti-ballistic missile systems."

On the other hand, despite repeated appeals from Washington, Russia was accused last week by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of being "an active proliferator,"/b> selling to and assisting countries like Iran, North Korea and India with technologies that threaten the United States, Western Europe and the Middle East.

Also, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker expressed America's "deep regret" Friday over a Russian decision to begin shipping nuclear fuel to India.

Airstrikes against Iraq and a go-slow approach toward Israel on resuming land-for-peace talks with the Palestinians and Syria, meanwhile, could complicate Powell's pitch to the Arabs for support for maintaining U.N. sanctions against Iraq.

Bush said Wednesday the sanctions are porous, "like Swiss cheese," being violated by countries assisting Iraq.

"The secretary of state is going to listen to our allies as to how best to affect a policy," Bush said. The primary goal is to say to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, "We won't tolerate you developing weapons of mass destruction, and we expect you to leave your neighbors alone," Bush said.

And, the president said, if Saddam is found to be developing weapons of mass destruction, "There will be a consequence."

Powell, who was chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, likely will argue that the sanctions are not aimed at the Iraqi people. Iraq is permitted to sell its oil provided the revenue is used for food, medicine and other humanitarian purposes.

But joint bombing raids by U.S. and British warplanes last Friday have intensified Arab opposition to the sanctions, leveled in 1990 in an effort to compel Saddam to destroy all weapons of mass destruction and to permit U.N. weapons inspectors to confirm his compliance.

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On the Net: State Department on Powell trip: http://www.state.gov/secretary/trvl/index.cfm?docid573