WASHINGTON – In a conversation he described as "candid" — a diplomatic way of saying there was disagreement — Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) told Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (search) on Tuesday to pick up the pace of dismantling outposts on the West Bank.
Going public with his complaint, Powell told reporters he had "explained to the minister that we have some disappointment in the rate at which outposts had been removed."
Shalom said the remaining outposts, which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) had promised President Bush would be dismantled, had been reduced to 28 and that Israel was working with the United States to make good on its commitment.
At their meeting, Shalom told Powell that 12 of the 28 were in the process of being removed from the West Bank and that Israel was waiting for a decision from its Supreme Court on the 16 other outposts.
The outposts are makeshift encampments that critics contend could develop into full-blown settlements and strengthen Israel's hold on the West Bank, which the Palestinians claim for a state.
Lewis Roth, executive director of Americans for Peace Now (search), accused the Sharon government of "playing games" with the Bush administration.
Roth said his private group has made aerial surveys of the West Bank and found there were 52 outposts at the end of June. Further, Roth said, new outposts were being built while some of the outposts taken down had been moved to new locations.
On another sensitive topic, Shalom said Israel would continue to build a security fence that, he said, has brought a sharp decline in terror attacks.
Bush and senior U.S. officials have urged Israel to route the barrier in a way that does not interfere with Palestinians living on the West Bank.
Shalom said the fence has made it possible for Israel to cancel 80 roadblocks, giving more freedom to the Palestinians.
The Bush administration had made a point of appealing to Israel to give Palestinians more freedom of movement.
Powell claimed progress, meanwhile, on two fronts — the U.S.-backed roadmap for peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians and on Egypt helping to strengthen Palestinian security forces in Gaza.
With U.S. support, Sharon hopes to withdraw all Israeli forces from Gaza and dismantle all settlements in the territory in which 7,500 Israeli Jews live.
The Israeli Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that national elections would be held in November 2006, a year earlier than originally planned, in a decision that could complicate Sharon's withdrawal plan.
But Powell said: "The prime minister is quite skilled politically, and from everything I have been able to see, he is moving forward on the plan. And I expect that he will be successful with the ups and downs that come from working in a democratic political system."
Stephen Hadley, Bush's deputy national security adviser, and Elliott Abrams, the senior Mideast specialist on the National Security Council, plan to go to Israel later in the week to check on progress.