Powell Expresses Concern About Middle East Violence in Russia Visit

Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested Sunday that the latest suicide bombing in the Middle East casts further doubt on Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat's leadership and commitment to the peace effort.

Vice President Dick Cheney echoed Powell's skepticism in comments he made from Washington.

The violence by Palestinian terrorist groups "is destroying his authority and credibility," Powell said after Sunday's suicide bombing at a bus stop in Haifa.

Speaking with reporters as he flew from Kazakstan in Central Asia, Powell said: "The Palestinian people ought to be asking their leaders, 'Where does this take us?' And the answer is nowhere."

Terrorism —  both the escalating violence in the Middle East and developments in Afghanistan in the U.S.-led war — will be the focus of Powell's agenda and talks.

"They will not push Israel into the sea. So they will not be successful if that is their goal," he said of the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas and similar groups.

Shortly after arriving in Moscow late Sunday, Powell placed flowers on a memorial at Pushkin Square on the site of a terrorist bombing that killed 13 people in August 2000.

He had dinner with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and planned to meet on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In response to a reporter's question on why he came to Russia, Powell said it was to "advance our strategic dialogue on all kinds of issues: economic, military, arms control. I'm looking forward to it."

Both Powell and Cheney said the continuing violence in the Middle East raised new questions about Arafat's ability to exercise control.

"Until Arafat demonstrates that he's serious about controlling suicide attackers from Palestinian territory against the Israelis, there's not going to be any progress," Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

There is "no question" that Arafat's behavior has pushed back progress toward creation of a Palestinian state, Cheney said.

He said the Palestinian people are led by someone "who is either unwilling or unable to deal with the homegrown terrorists."

In addition to the latest suicide bombing, five Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops and 30 suspected militants detained in Israeli raids on two West Bank villages.

"We have seen both sides pursuing courses of action that have not gained Israel any additional security and have not moved us toward a peace process," Powell said en route to Moscow.

But, he added, "I think the burden right now is on Mr. Arafat to do more to get the violence down to zero."

Powell said Arafat "has available to him tens of thousands of security personnel with weapons," and should be able to do a better job at cracking down on extremists.

On other subjects, Powell:

— Said he hopes to get a specific number from the Russians on cuts in long-range nuclear missiles. President Bush last month pledged to reduce the U.S. arsenal to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads. Putin said last month on his U.S. visit that he would "try to respond in kind." He has yet to name a number.

— Cited continuing Russian opposition to modifying the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to allow the United States to build a national missile defense. "We haven't been able to persuade them otherwise," Powell said. Still, he said he hoped for a breakthrough.

Powell, on an eight-day trip of Europe and Central Asia, traveled from Astana, the capital of Kazakstan. It is one of several former Soviet republics that have offered various forms of help in the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.

Powell thanked President Nursultan Nazarbayev for granting the United States air space rights and offering the use of bases. While no bases in Kazakstan were needed in the military campaign, they may play a role in the humanitarian effort, Powell suggested.

Nazarbayev praised the level of U.S.-Kazak cooperation in exporting his country's oil to world markets. He said his country supports building several pipelines, including possibly one through Iran opposed by the United States.

Later, on his plane, Powell said that "setting aside pipelines, I am open to explore opportunities" for improving relations with Iran.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.