WASHINGTON – The Bush administration will urge Ariel Sharon during his visit this week to curb settlement building in Palestinian areas, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday.
U.S. officials also will resist any proposals by Sharon to sideline Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Powell said.
Sharon is to see Bush on Tuesday, their fifth meeting during Bush's presidency. Bush has yet to meet with Arafat. The president also talks to King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House on Wednesday.
Powell said he expects to move beyond the strong U.S. support for Israel during its recent anti-terror offensive in the West Bank, and to address impediments to getting peace talks back on track. He cited Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza as such an impediment.
"Something has to be done about the problem of the settlements, the settlements continue to grow and continue to expand," Powell told NBC's "Meet the Press." "It's not going to go away."
Powell's comments contrasted with those made by the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who suggested the settlements were not a high priority.
"Let's take one thing at a time," Rice said on "Fox News Sunday." "Settlements will eventually be an issue. But I think we have to get the context right here. We need to end the terror, create a situation in which there is better security and no violence."
Powell's emphasis on settlements and Rice's on ending Palestinian terror reflects administration divisions between those who favor the Israel's tough actions and those, like Powell, who are more solicitous of Arab demands.
Still, there was unanimity on rejecting Israeli attempts to sideline Arafat and to shelve talk of a Palestinian state. Sharon believes that Arafat is "irrelevant" and has suggested cultivating the next generation of Palestinian leaders.
"It serves us all better if we continue to work with all Palestinian leaders and to recognize who the Palestinian people look to as their leader," Powell said on ABC's "This Week."
Added Rice: "The White House position is that we're not going to try to choose the leadership for the Palestinian people. Chairman Arafat is there."
Sharon will meet with Bush for the first time since launching the offensive in late March. Under U.S. pressure, Sharon has scaled back the operation in recent days, withdrawing from all but one of the Palestinian cities, and has ended his house arrest of Arafat in Ramallah.
The offensive and Palestinian resistance have seen support for both leaders soar among their peoples, and Powell said that could provide a platform for peace initiatives.
Last week, Powell announced that the United States was planning an international peace conference for this summer.