Mr Powell was again left out to dry
By Jon Leyne
BBC US State Department correspondent
It has been a muddle for months, but this week the divisions over the United States' Middle East policy became painfully
It was comments by the Secretary of State Colin Powell that started it off.
In an interview with the Arabic newspaper, al- Hayat, he spoke of the possibility of setting up a provisional Palestinian
Mr Powell referred to the Palestinian Authority as a "government". And he said, quite categorically, that the United States
would continue to work with Yasser Arafat.
It fell to the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, to deliver a very public humiliation.
Asked whether President George W Bush endorsed Mr Powell's remarks, Mr Fleischer said only that "the president has been
receiving advice from any number of people, and many of these people give him multiple pieces of advice about the Middle East".
It was hardly a ringing vote of support.
As Mr Powell travelled to a meeting of foreign ministers in Whistler, Canada, he began the damage limitation.
"I think I've talked about this a number of times before and the ideas that are out there with respect to how you move
forward," he told reporters on his plane.
The trouble is that the idea of a provisional Palestinian state has not been aired by him publicly.
And his open support for continuing to talk with Yasser Arafat set a very different tone to the president's almost daily
expressions of frustration with the Palestinian leader.
It's all very reminiscent of Mr Powell's early baptism of fire as secretary of state, when he spoke about negotiations
with North Korea - only to have the rug pulled very swiftly under him by the White House.
Now it appears that President Bush has softened the humiliation a little bit, talking of "the evolution of a Palestinian
Pulled two ways
All this comes as the United States policy towards the Middle East undergoes yet another review.
It has just been discussed by the G8 foreign ministers' meeting.
More of the key players will be in Washington for meetings on Friday. Then some time next week, President Bush is expected
As so often, Mr Bush is being torn in two precisely opposite directions.
Moderate Arab nations, and most of the United States' allies in Europe and around the world want a greater involvement
in peace making, an early peace conference, and a timetable leading to the creation of a Palestinian state.
But domestic opinion in the United States supports the scepticism being poured on all those ideas by the Israeli government.
So once again, Mr Bush and his advisers are working overtime carefully to craft a compromise that he will unveil to the
And once again the lesson is the same.
This is an administration that pays an extraordinary degree of attention to domestic opinion when it formulates foreign
Hence any ideas emerging from the State Department are examined line by line in the White House for their popularity at
That is already painfully clear from President Bush's policies on global warming, steel tariffs, and host of other issues.
For the reason, you need to look no further than the tiny margin of victory in the 2000 presidential election.
Mr Bush knows that if he is to be re-elected, he cannot afford to waste a single vote on being nice to foreigners - however
much that leaves his secretary of state hanging out to dry.