WASHINGTON - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday said the key to making progress in the Middle East was stripping Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat of his power.

Speaking during an interview with the Associated Press, Powell said the PA needs a prime minister with powers, which entails stripping Arafat of his current authority.

The secretary of state said the United States was willing to help the sides make progress, but that the Palestinians needed to take action in curbing terror and advancing reforms in order to enable that progress to be made.

In an interview granted to Egyptian television on Friday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reiterated that the United States still opposes the option of Israel's expulsion of Arafat. Armitage said that the United States does not believe that expelling Arafat is a good idea, and clarified this position to Israel.

Responding to comments by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom earlier this week, who stated that Arafat's expulsion is closer than ever, Armitage said that he has no reason to believe that such a move would occur in the near future.

Palestinians to meet with Egyptians on pullout plan Palestinian security chiefs will hold their first talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo next week to coordinate strategy in the face of Israel's disengagement plan, a Palestinian official said on Friday.

The meeting set to begin on Monday follows Egypt's offer to help train Palestinian security officers in preparation for an Israeli pullout planned by the end of 2005. But Egypt's initiative appears to have made little progress so far.

Egypt wants to help prevent any collapse into anarchy or an Islamist takeover on its borders after Israel withdraws.

But Cairo showed reluctance on Wednesday to send security advisers into the Gaza Strip after failing to win an Israeli agreement to halt attacks on Palestinian militants and raids into Gaza.

Egypt has also voiced impatience at the pace of Palestinian reforms in a welter of security services.

Israel has so far frozen the Palestinians out of the plan, insisting on a unilateral approach, but has welcomed Egyptian cooperation. Egypt offered months ago to train Palestinian security officers, but no deals have yet been reached.

Palestinian General Intelligence Chief Amin al-Hindi, Public Security Chief Abdel-Razek al-Majaydeh and the Palestinian police chief are due to attend the talks, the official said.

But the official said Israel rejected a request for Gaza Internal Security Chief Rashid Abu Shbak to leave Gaza to attend the talks. The Israel Defense Forces had no immediate comment.