Armitage to visit Middle East

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on Friday said he would visit the Middle East next month to "touch base" with officials in several Arab nations.

    Armitage firefighting, attempt to save peace process

    The visit comes amid renewed US concerns about Israel-Palestinian peace efforts and the worsening situation in Iraq.


    Armitage, Secretary of State Colin Powell's number two, did not say which countries he planned to visit but made clear he would be raising the two issues.


    He also said it was possible a more senior United States official would also visit the region in the coming weeks. Armitage did not mention names but there has been speculation that either Powell, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice or both could travel there in the near future.




    "We'll let the situation develop and see if someone will go to Israel and to the Palestiniani territories to try to work things out," Armitage said in an interview with Aljazeera TV.


    "I, myself, am planning a trip to some of the Arab capitals some time in September," he said. "It's been quite a while since I've been out there and I need to touch base with our friends."


    Armitage, echoing remarks made on Thursday by Powell, called on Arab nations and others to put pressure on Yasir Arafat to turn over full control of the Palestinian security apparatus to Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and his security chief Muhammad Dahlan.


    "We've discussed with our Arab friends the need to prevail on Mr Arafat to allow all the security forces to be put at the disposal of Mr Dahlan and of course prime minister Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) to try to stop the cycle of violence," he said.


    "The fact that up until now all of the security forces haven't been made available to Prime Minister Abu Mazen seems to indicate that Mr Arafat has some mixed views on the situation"

    Richard Armitage,
    US Deputy Secretary of State

    "We'll continue to urge that," Armitage said, adding that Arafat, declared persona non grata by US President George W. Bush in June 2002, appeared not to have fully decided to rein in resistance groups like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.


    "The fact that up until now all of the security forces haven't been made available to Prime Minister Abu Mazen seems to indicate that Mr Arafat has some mixed views on the situation," he said.


    Washington had tried to sideline Arafat after accusing him of fomenting violence, but this week US Secretary of State Colin Powell called on him to work with Abbas for peace.


    The appeal implicitly acknowledged Arafat retains influence and Abbas may not have enough clout to keep resistance fighters at bay.


    In addition to asking Arab states to put pressure on Arafat and clamp down on the financing of Palestinian resistance groups themselves, Armitage also said Iraq's neighbours had to boost their border enforcement so that foreign "terrorists" are unable to pass through. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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