U.S. Firm on Support For Israel Pullout Plan
AP / FOX       April 27, 2004

WASHINGTON — Asked Tuesday about a U.N. envoy's criticism of President Bush's support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon , Secretary of State Colin Powell held firm on Bush's backing of Sharon's proposal on West Bank settlements and Palestinian refugees.

Lakhdar Brahimi (^), the U.N. envoy helping to plan an interim government in Iraq, said Sunday that Bush's support for Sharon was making his work in Iraq more difficult.

Asked about Brahimi's comments, Powell reiterated that all terms of an accord must be agreeable to Israel and the Palestinians.  The president, he said, remains committed to establishing a Palestinian state and to a "road map" for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to resolve their decades-long conflict.

"So the president has not moved one step away from his vision," Powell said at a joint news conference with the foreign minister of Qatar (^), Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani.

Brahimi said on ABC-TV on Sunday that "what I hear is that these Americans who are occupying us are the Americans who are giving blanket support to Israel to do whatever they like."

Asked how he responds, the envoy said, "That is my problem.  I have no answer to their questions about the situation in the Middle East."

"I think there is unanimity in the Arab world, and indeed in much of the rest of the world, that the Israeli policy is wrong, that Israeli policy is brutal, repressive, and that they are not interested in peace no matter what you seem to believe in America," Brahimi said.

Powell said that Bush "acknowledged reality on the ground" when he supported Sharon's proposal to retain some Jewish settlements on the West Bank (^) as part of an overall peace agreement.

"The president clearly wanted also to take account of obvious realities we all recognize with respect to 'right of return' and final borders have to be aligned in accordance with the reality on the ground," Powell said.

Powell made his statement of support on Israel's Independence Day (^).  Powell planned to attend anniversary ceremonies before flying to Berlin to represent the United States at a European anti-Semitism conference.

Powell and the Qatari foreign minister spoke warmly of relations between the United States and the Persian Gulf country.  Qatar is a strong supporter of the war against terrorism and is a strong partner of the United States on Iraq, Powell said.

The Pentagon gradually has been shifting U.S. military resources to Qatar from Saudi Arabia.  Powell and the foreign minister provided no details of the "strategic dialogue" Powell said they had launched on Tuesday.