Powell says he was surprised by Arab clamour over Iraq bombing

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The Independent Online
US Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged today that the bombing of Iraq by American and British warplanes was more "aggressive" than the usual retaliation and he had been surprised by the outcry in the Arab world.</p>But Powell said he had no apologies for retaliating to Iraqi harassment of US flights.</p>At a news conference after meeting with Israel's Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon, Powell said the attack could have been coordinated better in order not to inflame Arab sentiment.</p>"Our action was a little more aggressive than usual and got a little more attention," Powell said. "But I have no apologies."</p>Three Iraqis were killed and 25 others were wounded in the February 16 missile attack on air defence and radar sites south of Baghdad.</p>Powell, meanwhile, apparently made no headway with Sharon or, last night, with outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak on persuading Israel to ease its economic curbs on the Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza.</p>Sharon said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat first must end violence against Israelis. "In order to ease the restrictions there are steps Chairman Arafat will have to take," he said.</p>"The government I will head will not conduct negotiations under pressure of terrorism and violence. We will negotiate when there is a halt to the hostility," Sharon said.</p>Powell said he was "greatly disturbed" by the report on Israel's security he received last night from Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz.</p>"It is a very dangerous situation," Powell said. "This is the time to bring calm to the region and to bring about security cooperation."</p>Sharon, underscoring their apparent accord on the issue, said Israel required "full security" and that while he maintained "pipelines" for messages to the Palestinian Authority there were no ongoing negotiations.</p>From here, Powell went to Ramallah on the West Bank for talks with Arafat.</p>Responding to reports Iraq may be nearing development of nuclear weapons, Powell said it was all the more important to prevent Saddam Hussein from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.</p>"Saddam Hussein is a threat to the nations of the region as well as Israel," he said.</p>