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Israel shadow in Powell exit

New York, Nov. 21: Colin Powell, the outgoing US secretary of state, was given his marching orders after telling President George W. Bush that he wanted greater power to confront Israel over the stalled West Asia peace process.

Although Powell's departure was announced on November 15, his letter of resignation was dated November 11, the day he had a meeting with Bush.

According to White House officials, at the meeting Powell was not asked to stay on and gave no hints that he would do so. Briefing reporters later, he referred to 'fulsome discussions' ' diplomatic code for disagreements.

'The clincher came over the West Asian peace process,' said a recently-retired state department official.

'Powell thought he could use the credit he had banked as the President's 'good cop' in foreign policy to rein in Ariel Sharon (Israel's Prime Minister] and get the peace process going. He was wrong.'

Bob Woodward, the veteran Washington reporter who was granted unprecedented access to the first Bush administration for his books Bush At War and Plan Of Attack, said last week that Powell had been 'dreaming' if he thought that he could stay on.

Vice-President Dick Cheney and his fellow hardliner, John Bolton, an under-secretary of state to Powell, are both understood to have lobbied Bush to replace him.

They wanted to make Iran's alleged nuclear bomb aspirations and support for Islamic terror groups the foreign policy priority for the new administration and believed that Powell would back away from a confrontational approach.

The two are frustrated that Britain, France and Germany are still seeking a diplomatic deal with Tehran rather than backing a UN Security Council resolution condemning Iran and threatening sanctions.

Powell's final pitch to remain in office for at least another year was made during Tony Blair's visit to Washington nine days ago, The Daily Telegraph has learned. Earlier indications had been that he intended to step down after enduring four years of clashes with the office of Cheney and the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld. Friends of Powell later briefed journalists that he changed his mind because he wanted to see through the Iraqi elections.

Israel visit

Powell today arrived in Tel Aviv on his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in 18 months, signalling a new push for peace in West Asia following the death of Yasser Arafat, adds Reuters.

Powell will meet Israeli leaders in Jerusalem and top Palestinians in the West Bank tomorrow for talks on a Palestinian presidential election scheduled for January 9 and a stalled peace plan known as the 'road map'.

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