Powell buys ticket to Mideast
U.S. secretary of state's first official visit set for troubled region
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Friday that his first trip abroad would be a whirlwind trip through the Middle East, tied to the 10th anniversary of the end of the Gulf War.
Powell said he planned to visit Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan during a five-day trip that would include a stop in Kuwait on February 26, 10 years after U.S.-led troops liberated that oil-rich nation from an Iraqi invasion.
Powell was chairman of the joint chiefs of staff during that conflict.
The trip is "not as long as I'd like it to be," Powell said.
Powell said his tour would end with a NATO meeting in Brussels, Belgium, to "exchange views" with U.S. allies in Europe.
The secretary said his Mideast jaunt would give him more opportunity to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- and the larger relationship between the Israelis and their other Arab neighbors -- with regional leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
"The purpose of this trip will be to share views with friends in the region, especially in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank, to make an assessment of the situation," he said.
Powell said there was no significance to the absence of Damascus, Syria, from his itinerary, saying such a stop was not out of the question.
"I'm secretary of state," he said. "I reserve the right to change my mind."
Syria is one of Israel's staunchest opponents in the region, and has steadfastly backed the Palestinians during both the last five months of intense violence between Palestinians and Israelis and the larger, five decade-long conflict that began with Israel's independence in 1948.
In another development, Arafat said he called Sharon on Friday to discuss the Mideast peace process, but revealed no details of the conversation.
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