JERUSALEM (AP) - Secretary of State Colin Powell began a new push Saturday for Middle East peace that has been bolstered by a change in Palestinian leadership. His message to Israel and the Palestinians: "Let's get on with it."
In contrast to the bitter confrontation he found on his last trip 13 months ago, Powell said Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas "is beginning to make the right statements with respect to terror and violence" and that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, too, had shown signs of cooperation.
Powell's effort got under way with an evening meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. On Sunday, Powell and Sharon planned talks in Jerusalem. Powell then was to cross into the West Bank for his first meeting with Abbas, who was sworn in on April 30.
Powell told reporters traveling with him from Washington that one positive step was Sharon's apparent decision to drop Israel's longtime insistence that all violence against its citizens must end as a condition for the peace process to move ahead.
"I haven't heard Israelis talk of total calm," Powell said. "They are saying they are looking for a lot of effort and intent" by the new Palestinian leaders to stop terror attacks.
To this end, Powell said the CIA is in touch with Palestinian officials, and other U.S. agencies may provide help.
Powell said he intends to assess the antiterror tactics being used by Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinians' security chief in his role as interior minister.
The secretary said he will press Israel to ease economic restrictions on Palestinians and deal with settlement activity. The blueprint, or "road map," for peace that the Bush administration has prepared with the United Nations, European Union and Russia prescribes a freeze of construction of homes for Jews on the West Bank and Gaza and a cut in Israeli outposts in those areas.
"The road map is controversial," Powell said. "There are elements one party or the other might not like."
But, he said, "We need to get started. People can comment on the road map as we move forward. Let's not allow comments to stop us. Let's get on with it."
The Palestinian Authority and U.S. officials in Jerusalem decided Saturday to move Powell's talks with Abbas and Dahlan from Ramallah, site of the Palestinian headquarters, to Jericho.
The move was to avoid expected demonstrations against Powell's visit by members of authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.
The Bush administration has tried to marginalize Arafat, and the longtime Palestinian leader will not participate in the meeting.
Asked if he had requested that Arafat stay away, Powell snapped: "Yes. I won't meet with Mr. Arafat."
U.S. officials expect Abbas to work vigorously to curb violence and move the Palestinians toward greater democracy as part of the blueprint's projection of a Palestinian state by 2005.
President Bush is counting on Israeli-Palestinian peace to lead to major changes in the political, economic and other systems of other Arab nations.
"Ultimately, economic success and human dignity depend on the rule of law and honest administration of justice," Bush said in a speech Friday.
Powell also plans meetings this week with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The secretary then goes to Moscow for talks Wednesday with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.