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Powell sketches Iraq timeline, wins Mideast backing

( 2003-09-27 09:43) (Agencies)

Secretary of State Colin Powell sketched a timeline on Friday for returning Iraq to self-rule and won international backing for pressure on the Palestinians to end violence against Israel.

In a gesture to critics such as France pressing for a swift transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis, Powell told a news conference, "Six months seems to be a good timeline to put out there for the creation of a constitution, and also to give a sense of momentum and purpose to the effort of moving toward full restoration of authority over Iraq to the Iraqi people."

He did not specify when the countdown would begin and said no firm deadline would appear in a U.N. resolution the United States is redrafting in a quest for wider support for its efforts to pacify and rebuild postwar Iraq.

Powell said the five permanent members of the Security Council had moved closer on the shape of a new resolution on Iraq's future after a week of intensive talks on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly ministerial session.

He was speaking after meeting with other major powers in the so-called quartet steering Middle East diplomacy -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

In a joint statement, the mediators put the onus on the Palestinians to open the way for renewed peace talks by cracking down on militants and forming a strong government able and willing to halt attacks on Israelis.

They recognized Israel's right to self-defense but urged the Jewish state to avoid civilian casualties and halt settlements. They also criticized an Israeli security fence under construction that eats into West Bank territory, cutting Palestinians off from their land, jobs and schools.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan voiced alarm at the growing violence and the diplomatic impasse, saying the only alternative to a two-state solution was long-term conflict and instability.

"It seems to me that bold steps ... are now necessary to salvage peace. Small steps have not worked. They are unlikely to work in future," he said in a personal statement.


European diplomats acknowledged the quartet had largely endorsed U.S. positions, avoiding criticism of Israel's threat to "remove" Palestinian President Yasser Arafat or of its targeted killings of suspected Palestinian militants.

The EU failed to win an endorsement of new Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Qurie, viewed with suspicion by Washington because of his closeness to Arafat, whom the United States considers an obstacle to peace.

One EU diplomat called the statement the price for securing continued U.S. engagement in international diplomatic efforts amid a mood of deep gloom over peace prospects.

The quartet's "road map" to peace lays out mutual steps the two sides are to take on the way to establishing a Palestinian state in 2005.

Powell said the United States had shown it was willing to pressure Israel to meet its obligations under the plan if the Palestinians halted violence. But it was difficult to move forward "against a backdrop of continued terror on the part of organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad."

At an earlier meeting, diplomats said Powell told EU foreign ministers he hoped to have a new resolution on Iraqi reconstruction "if possible" in time for a donors' conference on Oct. 23 and 24 in Madrid.

Participants said they did not discuss financial aid or troops, but U.S. officials told Congress this week the amount of money and troops pledged by allies to help rebuild Iraq had fallen short of expectations.

A congressional source said the Bush administration was projecting about $2 billion in foreign donations, compared with the $20 billion it has requested as the U.S. contribution.

Senior military commanders told Congress on Thursday the United States may have to call up thousands of reservists to serve in Iraq because sufficient foreign troops were unlikely to be forthcoming soon.

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