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Peace team: One giant & the little three
President dreams, Powell toils

Aqaba (Jordan), June 4 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush has a dream of Israeli and Palestinian states living in peace, but secretary of state Colin Powell is the one burning the midnight oil to try to make it a reality.

Powell stayed up long past midnight in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, yesterday to hammer out details of a statement that five Arab leaders issued to support the West Asia “road map” peace plan that aims to create a Palestinian state by 2005.

His final meeting began around 2 am, when he sat down with Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal a few hours before Bush met the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Often seen as the odd man out in a hawkish administration, Powell has been a key player on issues ranging from the battle for UN approval of the US-led war with Iraq to US efforts to dissuade North Korea from pursuing nuclear weapons.

Powell was a few steps behind Bush as he descended from Air Force One in Aqaba to meet Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for talks US officials hope will begin a march to peace that all admit will be arduous and may lead nowhere.

“The endurance of the secretary, it appears to me, is starting to be legendary,” a senior Saudi official told reporters yesterday. “It’s truly remarkable that he could work so hard and travel so much and yet come as fresh as can be.” The Saudi official said Powell’s late-night talks were over a statement issued by Egyptian, Bahraini, Jordanian, Saudi and Palestinian leaders vowing to fight terrorism and that they carefully gauged what they might say to help the Aqaba talks. “These were the issues that kept us going all night long,” the Saudi official said. “As you can see, most of the ministers are asleep today and after we finish here I am going to bed.”

Sometimes criticised for travelling less than many of his predecessors, Powell, 66, has been to West Asia twice in just over a month.

He returns to Jordan in June for an economic meeting on a trip likely to lead him into more talks on peace.

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