CRAWFORD, Texas – Secretary of State Colin Powell will not meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during his visit to the Middle East next week to accelerate peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday that Powell would meet "with leaders who work for peace" and suggested that Arafat, who is still trapped in his Ramallah compound and surrounded by Israeli forces, has not distinguished himself in that regard yet.
Powell is scheduled to leave Sunday night for the region, apparently canceling two days of meetings in Europe in order to head straight for the Mideast.
Powell said Friday that he plans to meet with "as many leaders as he can in the region reflecting all the points of view and the parties in the region."
Thursday, President Bush said Arafat is in a situation largely of his own making. While being highly critical of Arafat, Bush said there is no way for Israelis and Arabs to resolve their differences on a battlefield, and Israel should withdraw from Palestinian areas.
Fleischer said the president has called on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian areas "as soon as possible," though Bush put no timetable on it.
Fleischer told reporters traveling with Bush in Texas on Friday that the president expects results, but recognizes "major events don't necessarily happen overnight."
"But the president expects results and he expects them as soon as possible," he said.
On Friday, Israeli tanks moved into more Palestinian territory and attack helicopters battled hundreds of Palestinian gunmen in Nablus, the largest city on the West Bank, and in refugee camps.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin ben-Eliezer said Thursday that unless the Palestinians cooperate with the United States to reach a cease-fire, "Israel will continue its efforts to stop terror." Arafat has made no effort to call back Palestinian militants even after a call with U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni Friday, who demanded Arafat "take decisive action to end the violence."
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Friday that his country would be happy to move toward peace negotiations but the real problem is with Arafat.
"When the secretary will come to the region, especially to Israel ... I believe our government will do whatever it can to make his mission successful," Barak said.
On his way to spend the weekend with Bush at the president's Crawford, Texas, ranch, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said it's important for Europe to support Powell's mission.
Talks between Bush and Blair had originally been planned as a strategy session on dealing with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but now have been geared to focus more on the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, which is seen as a more immediate problem.
Before heading to the United States, Blair said, "There can be few grounds for optimism at the moment."
Blair has been the president's strongest public supporter. The two leaders have met five times since Bush took office, starting with an overnight stay at Camp David just one month after the president's January 2001 inauguration.
But Blair is now under fire at home from members of Parliament who say Bush's policies are more reflective of conservative Republicans than the American public, particularly when it comes to dealing with Iraq.
Blair said he is as determined as Bush that "Saddam not be allowed to permanently evade U.N. weapons inspections, or to join forces with terrorists to provide them with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.