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Powell prepares for Europe, Africa

1st December 2003

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US Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves today on a tour of Europe and North Africa that will feature tough meetings on Iraq, the fight against terrorism and Georgia's political future.

Powell is due in Maastricht, the Netherlands, tomorrow for a ministerial meeting of the 55-member Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

From there he will go to Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco before returning to Europe to participate in a North Atlantic Treaty Organsiation (Nato) ministerial meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

Powell will meet with Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov in Maastricht where the two are expected to discuss troubles in Georgia after Eduard Shevardnadze stepped down as president.

Washington, which has voiced support for Georgia's interim government, is hoping the international community will support a new presidential ballot scheduled for January 4.

"OSCE is a very important organisation and I think we will have some issues, serious issues, to discuss with respect to what's happened in Georgia recently and what we might do to help the new leadership in Georgia get ready for new elections," Powell said in an interview with European newspapers this week.

Powell's African stops will be dominated by discussions on international terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and regional economics and politics.

The Department of State underlined this week that cooperation from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco in the fight against global terror has been "excellent" and that Washington is eager to reinforce such links.

"We've tried to work with all the countries in the (north African) region to do what we can to support their efforts against terrorism, through training, through law enforcement, through information exchange," state department spokesperson Richard Boucher said.

Washington would also like to open north Africa's economies and boost democracy efforts in the region, an objective reaffirmed recently by US President George W Bush.

The ongoing strife in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will also be firmly on the agenda and assistant secretary of state for the Middle East William Burns will join Powell on the African leg of his trip.

Iraq, and US plans for a speedier transition to Iraqi self-rule, will be the main topic of discussion when Powell joins the Nato summit, prior to returning to Washington.

Powell admits the US and Europe had "one heck of a row over Iraq earlier this year," but he said, "we must now come together and help build the peace".

Nato's engagement in Afghanistan is also likely to be hotly debated in Brussels.

The secretary of state conceded that Washington has a serious image problem with its global war on terror, but he hopes this can be turned around in coming months.

"Public sentiment is more negatively inclined toward the US than I would like to see it ... But I also believe that that is something that can be turned around," Powell added.

Some 3 000 to 5 000 demonstrators were expected to march yesterday in Maastricht to protest Washington's policies. – Sapa-AFP.

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