New US bid for Middle East peace
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London - The United States is sending a senior Middle East negotiator back to the region in a new effort to restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
In a speech on America's Middle East policy in Kentucky on Monday, Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, failed to unveil any sweeping new initiative to break the deadlock.
Instead he reiterated that the US was sticking with the Mitchell plan, drawn up by former Senate Majority leader George Mitchell, which urges first a cooling-off period free of violence, then confidence-building measures and only after that a resumption of the final settlement talks which foundered last year.
To this end, William Burns, the assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, will return to the Middle East shortly to resume Washington's mediation efforts. He will be assisted by retired Marine General Anthony Zinni.
For all its relative paucity of content, Powell's speech has had an exceptionally long gestation.
Originally planned for delivery to the United Nations in September, it was put on ice after the terrorist attacks.
In the event, it was President Bush himself who set the ball rolling again 10 days ago, as he broke new ground in front of the UN General Assembly by speaking of Washington's vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, existing side by side.
But despite that carefully weighed first use of the word, Palestine, Bush has steadfastly refused to meet Yasser Arafat, with White House officials insisting that the Palestinian leader was not doing enough to reduce terrorist violence.
Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meanwhile cancelled a planned trip to the US this month for fear of being put under heavy diplomatic pressure to resume peace talks with the Palestinians. - The Independent, London