WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Israel and eight other countries in the Middle East in the next few weeks as the Bush administration tries to look past a cycle of violence to potential peacemaking.
The trip will come after one by CIA Director George Tenet. Administration officials called Tenet's effort part of his routine business and not designed to broker a new cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians.
With peacemaking at a stalemate, the Bush administration has focused its diplomacy on pressuring Yasser Arafat to curb Palestinian attacks on Israel.
Secretary of State Colin Powell told a House hearing Wednesday that the aim was to come as close to ending violence "as is reasonable."
Details on Cheney's trip were not announced. Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Palestinian-held areas of the West Bank and Gaza were not on his itinerary.
The vice president is planning the trip in the next several weeks that will take him through nine countries -- including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain -- over the course of seven or eight days, a government official said.
"With an end to violence we can move forward," Powell told the House International Relations Committee at a hearing on U.S. foreign policy.
Powell said he still envisioned "a state called Palestine living side by side with the Jewish state of Israel."
But Powell again criticized Arafat. He said he could not prove the Palestinian leader had direct control of an abortive effort to smuggle in 50 tons of rockets, mortar and explosives from Iran. But, Powell said, "he should have known and very well might have known."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is due to hold talks at the White House on Thursday with President Bush. He is expected to ask the president to suspend U.S. contact with Arafat — but not with the Palestinian Authority.
Bush considered that option at a meeting with his top advisers at the White House Jan. 25, but has deferred a decision.
Instead, the administration is pursuing the course recommended by Powell. It is centered on a series of demands, including arrests and Arafat accepting responsibility for the smuggling attempt — which the Palestinian leader has not done yet.
Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., sought Powell's support for legislation to close the Palestinian office in Washington and suspend any financial help to the Palestinian Authority.
Powell said he would "take a look at it" and see "whether it hinders our ability to conduct foreign policy in this difficult area."
"Frankly, I need as much flexibility I can have in order to walk the very fine line between these two peoples and their governments," Powell said. "Anything that constrains the president's ability to walk that fine line and do zigs and zags from day to day I don't think is helpful."