Powell hints US is ready to broker Mid-East peace

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The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, plans to meet moderate Palestinian leaders later this month in an early indication of America's readiness to become involved in a Middle East peace process.

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, plans to meet moderate Palestinian leaders later this month in an early indication of America's readiness to become involved in a Middle East peace process.

General Powell said on Saturday that he planned to attend a conference in Egypt on 22-23 November where he expected to meet the current and former Palestinian prime ministers, Ahmad Quriea and Abu Mazen. If he did not meet them in Egypt, he might travel to the Palestinian territories to do so.

"We know these gentlemen well, and I hope to be able to see them to discuss what their plans are and how to move forward," General Powell said.

The Bush administration was widely criticised during its first term for failing to engage in a process for peace in the Middle East, taking the position that it was impossible to deal with the Palestinians' elected leader, Yasser Arafat.

Since Mr Arafat's death last week, the expectation that America would become more involved has grown. During a press conference with Tony Blair in Washington last Friday, President George Bush said he was ready to spend some of America's political capital on the issue and that he believed a separate Palestinian state could be established within four years.

General Powell said the US wanted Israel to allow Palestinians in the occupied territories to move freely to vote for Mr Arafat's successor.

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