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U.S. To Play Active Mideast Role

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday the United States will push and prod Israelis and Palestinians to reach peace and called on both sides to face up to the truth about what they must do to end tensions and live as neighbors.

The pronouncement re-engages the administration in the search for peace in the Middle East, reports CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts.

"As we have for half a century, the United States is ready to play an active leadership role in helping the parties along the road to a more hopeful future," said Powell.

But President Bush will continue to stay at arm's length, leaving the work to envoys - steadfastly resisting the notion of a three-way summit with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"Our objective to convince both parties to come to the peace table. And when they do we're more than willing to help," said the president.

Powell did not follow in the steps of many of his predecessors and announce he was going to the region to exert the influence of his office. Instead, he is dispatching an assistant secretary of state and appointing a former Marine general as an adviser.

"President Bush and I have asked Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Bill Burns to return to the region," Powell said.

He said that retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, who used to command U.S. forces in the region, would "remain in the region" to help bring about an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.

Sounding two familiar Arab themes, Powell called the Israeli-Palestinian dispute the central issue in the region, and he twice described Israel's hold on the West Bank and Gaza as an occupation.

This follows President Bush's and Powell's declaration in support of a Palestinian state, the first U.S. administration to endorse statehood publicly.

"Israel must be willing to end its occupation," Powell said, referring to the land the Arabs lost in the 1967 Mideast war.

Mr. Bush has come under increasing pressure from Arab members of his coalition against terrorism to get personally involved. Saudi Arabia's foreign minister declared Mr. Bush cannot be an "honest broker" until he meets with Arafat. Arab scholars say the Sept. 11 attacks have made more urgent the need to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

"These terrorists exploit public opinion and there is tremendous resentment and anger over this issue in the region. And if you keep that an open wound its gonna be exploited," said Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland.

Israelis and Palestinians welcomed Powell's pledge to renew the push for Mideast peace, but Palestinian officials noted that Powell's broad strokes did little to bridge the differences that have bedeviled efforts to end 14 months of fighting.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres praised the speech for what he called its "vision."

"You have a position taken by the United States, you have proposals ho to resume the peace process, and all told, it's a positive speech," Peres said.

Israeli officials were relieved that Powell did not explicitly remove U.S. support for Israel's demand that seven days of absolute quiet precede any other moves. There was concern in Israel after Palestinian officials and Israeli peace activists said last week that the United States no longer supported that condition.

Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Sharon, said the speech did not conflict with Israel's understanding that seven days of calm must be followed by a six-week cooling-off period, and only then would the confidence-building measures begin.

Gissin contended the Palestinians sabotaged earlier truce efforts by continuing violence, and there has not been "even one day" of calm.

Palestinians welcomed Powell's broadside on Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza - which he said "pre-empts and prejudges the outcome of negotiations and in doing so cripples chances for real peace and security."

And Palestinian Cabinet Minister Nabil Shaath agreed that "on a broad vision, the statement was good."

"For the first time the United States is speaking about ending Israeli occupation. For the first time they are speaking about a viable Palestinian state," Shaath said.

But he said he was disappointed that Powell avoided specifics. "Without a timeframe and (international) monitors on the ground, this will allow for Israeli procrastination as usual."

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat complained that Powell "did not refer to the fact that we've made a lot of efforts" and "failed to speak specifically in an evenhanded manner of the need for the Israelis to stop assassinations" of Palestinian militants.

Powell urged Palestinian leaders to "arrest, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of terrorist acts."

"The Palestinian leadership must make a 100 percent effort to end violence and terror," he said. "There must be real results, not just words and declarations."

Israelis must do their part, Powell said in a speech at the University of Louisville. Too many Palestinians have grown up "with checkpoints, raids and indignities," he said.

Powell said the American leadership will play a big role.

"We have a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders," he said.

Powell said Palestinian-led violence only defeats the objective of reaching any beginning point to peace negotiations and feeds Israeli doubts about whether they really want peace.

"The intifada is now mired in the quicksand of self-defeating violence and terror directed against Israel," he said.

On the other hand, the secretary said, Palestinians too often have seen their schools shuttered and their parents humiliated.

"Occupation hurts Palestinians, but it also affects Israelis," Powell said, referring to the young soldiers who serve on the front lines of the conflict.

©MMI CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters Limited contributed to this report

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