Powell's Mideast tour stops to mark Gulf War anniversary
KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait (CNN) -- As 10th anniversary celebrations of the liberation of Kuwait continued into Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the alliance against Iraq had effectively diffused Saddam Hussein's threat against the tiny oil emirate.
But Powell, who served as chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war that forced Iraqi invaders out of Kuwait, said he wasn't surprised that Hussein was still in power 10 years later.
"Never underestimate the power of a dictator," Powell told CNN, adding that he believed the coalition of nations against Baghdad had "pretty much removed his [Hussein's] stings."
Powell arrived in Kuwait after arriving earlier Sunday from Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. Foremost during the Sunday trips were meetings with Israeli-Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
Powell supported Arafat's call to end Israeli trade restrictions and urged an end to Israeli-Palestinian fighting "on both sides." And the secretary of state described Sharon Sunday as "reflective," "thoughtful" and "engaged on the issue."
After more than an hour of talks with Sharon in Jerusalem, Powell indicated that the Israeli leader might not be as inflexible toward negotiating with the Palestinians as many believe.
Powell said Sharon gave him the impression that reduced violence from the Palestinians would be met with concessions from the Israelis.
"We discussed how it was necessary for all sides to move away from violence and incitement and to lift the siege as soon as possible to get economic activity restarted," Powell said.
Fighting between Palestinians and Israeli security forces has led to hundreds of deaths, mostly Palestinians, and an Israeli clampdown on the economy of the Palestinian-controlled West Bank and Gaza. Powell said everyday Palestinians are suffering as a result.
"It is my view that economic pressure contributes to an overall deterioration in the situation here in the territories, places great hardship on Palestinian families, undermines relations between Israel and Palestine -- and the Palestinians -- and does nothing to quiet the security situation," he said.
Earlier, Powell said new U.S. President George W. Bush would play a "strong role" in the Middle East peace process, but he has told Sharon that the United States would not be as involved in negotiations as it had been under the Clinton administration.
"In the end, we cannot want peace more than the parties themselves," Powell said after meeting with Arafat in the West Bank town of Ramallah. "But we will be there to help."
Arafat said Sunday he hoped negotiations could resume where they left off with the government of outgoing Israeli leader Ehud Barak.
"We look forward to be able to push forward the understandings that have been reached between us and the Israeli side and that have not remained Palestinian but also international understandings," he said.
It's an unlikely prospect: Sharon has said he would stand by signed agreements but not by peace proposals raised at inconclusive negotiations. Earlier, Sharon reiterated his stand that he would not resume peace talks with the Palestinians until all violence ends.
"I have outlined to Gen. Powell the steps I will take if calm is restored in order to ease the economic conditions of the Palestinian population in the Palestinian Authority territories," Sharon said. But he added: "One thing will be clear. Israel will not be negotiating under the pressure of terror and violence."
But the fighting was still going on outside the meeting hall. Israel Army Radio reported an Israeli motorist was shot and wounded outside a Jewish settlement on the West Bank. The shooting was the only one in which someone was wounded out of more than a dozen incidents reported overnight, Israeli military officials said.
Powell said Israelis and Palestinians are in touch with each other on security issues. "Whether that will bear fruit, I don't know."
On peace-making, he described Sharon and Arafat as leaders looking down a long hallway, with a settlement at the end. "They have the keys," Powell said. But, he said, "it's going to take some time before they get back to negotiations."
After Powell's meeting with Arafat and Sharon, he flew to the next stop in his four-day Middle East tour -- neighboring Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II. In Jordan, Powell's objectives shifted to trying to shore up the region's support for some form of U.N. sanctions against Iraq.
Powell said he was "very pleased with [the] conversation" he held with the Jordanian king. The secretary of state said Abdullah had a "clear understanding" of the importance of sanctions in preventing Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction.
Referring to Jordan's alleged black-market trade with Iraq and under-the-table deals on Iraqi oil, Powell indicated Jordan could come under increased scrutiny.
Powell said Abdullah raised the possibility that if the United Nations were to review sanctions, it would be necessary to find the "leaks."
Sunday's meetings came a day after Powell met with outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Barak in Jerusalem and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Cairo.
Although Powell wanted to convey the continued American interest in peacemaking between the Israelis and Palestinians, the real thrust of his mission is to convince Arab allies and other powers, such as Russia, not to abandon United Nations sanctions against Iraq.
It comes just more than a week after U.S. and British planes conducted airstrikes on Iraqi radar sites near Baghdad. Powell acknowledged that the raids attracted "quite a bit of criticism" in the Arab world, but he said Iraqi weapons "are being aimed at Arabs, not at the United States or at others" and said it was necessary to prevent Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons.
"We have to make sure he is denied the opportunity to continue moving in this direction," Powell said. "We have to make sure that we do everything we can to contain him, to constrain him, to get inspectors back in under the terms of the U.N. resolutions."
CNN Correspondents Jerrold Kessel and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.
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