updated 5/11/2004 1:52:18 PM ET 2004-05-11T17:52:18

The Palestinian foreign minister said Tuesday he will meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell this week after President Bush sent a reassuring letter to the Palestinians.

The talks would be the first high-level meeting between the two sides since Bush angered Palestinians last month by declaring that Israel could hold on to some West Bank territory in a peace agreement and that Palestinian refugees could return to a Palestinian state but not to Israel.

The foreign minister, Nabil Shaath, said the meeting would take place on Saturday during an international economic forum in Jordan. There was no immediate comment from Washington.

Shaath said Bush had sent a letter of clarifications to the Palestinian leadership, emphasizing that disputes between Israel and the Palestinians must be settled through negotiations.

Bias charges
Palestinians charged that Bush’s statements to Sharon, part of a U.S. endorsement of Sharon’s “unilateral disengagement” plan, pre-empted peace negotiations.

Palestinians demand that Israel withdraw from all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, where they want to create a state. Also, they demand the right of refugees and their descendants to return to their original homes in Israel.

Several hundred thousand Palestinians fled or were expelled during the 1948-49 war that followed Israel’s creation. Altogether, the refugees and their families now number about 4 million.

Israel has traditionally rejected the right of Palestinians to reclaim their property, offering compensation and insisting that they find homes where they are now or in a Palestinian state,

Sharon’s “unilateral disengagement” plan, later rejected by his party, included a pullout from Gaza and small parts of the West Bank. Palestinians suspected that the real goal was to solidify Israel’s hold over large portions of the West Bank.

Shaath said Bush’s letter to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia calls for implementation of the “road map” peace plan leading to a Palestinian state and declares that issues in dispute must be decided through negotiations.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said Tuesday he will meet Secretary of State Colin Powell over the weekend to discuss U.S. policy in the Mideast conflict.

It would be the first high-level meeting between the two sides since President Bush angered Palestinians by declaring that Israel could hold on to some West Bank territory in a peace agreement, and that Palestinian refugees could return to a Palestinian state but not to Israel.

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