After groundbreaking talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan on Saturday, Powell insisted President George Bush was absolutely committed to the peace process.

"We will take risks, risks that may be controversial when you see what we do from time to time … but we will take those risks and we will endure the controversy when we think it is in the cause of peace."

The secretary of state also urged Palestinians to embrace Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan. "We must seize it and find a way to take maximum advantage of it," he insisted.

Targeting Arafat

US officials later said Powell had, in his meeting with Quraya, stressed that Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat had to give up his control over security services if there were to be progress.

"We will not stop working with our Palestinian and Israeli colleagues to move this process forward"

Colin Powell,
US Secretary of State

"The secretary made clear that Arafat has played a negative role," a US official said.

Quraya, on his part, pressed for the implementation of the US-crafted peace road map, which envisaged creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

"From now until 2005, we have enough time to finish the negotiations and to have a Palestinian state according to President Bush's vision," Quraya said.

Anguish

In his speech at the World Economic Forum, Powell also said he was anguished at the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers and vowed justice.

"I can tell you straight from my heart we will deal with this, we will see that justice is done," he said.

Outside the conference, riot police were deployed as unions and opposition parties protested against the World Econonic Forum (WEF) and in support of the Palestinians.  

About 100 delegates took part in a sit-in at the headquarters of the Jordanian trade federation as dozens of anti-riot police and security forces cordoned off the building.

The delegates held up placards branding the WEF as "dealers of human blood", and vowing that "imperialists will be defeated" as well as rejecting privatisation schemes and trade agreements which they said bolster Israel's influence in the region.