The Bush administration is acknowledging Wednesday's deadly suicide bombing in Israel as well as Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat's decision not to attend an Arab League summit have dealt a setback to U.S. efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. But administration officials insist progress is being made in negotiations by special Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni aimed at ending the violence.
Again, the United States found itself Wednesday condemning another deadly bombing in Israel on a day when it would liked to have seen attention focused on an Arab-Israeli peace initiative put forward by Saudi Arabia at the Arab League summit in Beirut.
Secretary of State Colin Powell had urged Israel to lift its travel restriction on Yasser Arafat and allow him to attend the summit but continues to push for progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations being conducted by Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni.
"General Zinni discussed with each side their work plan, narrowed the differences and then had a proposal that would bridge the differences," said Mr. Powell. "That proposal is gaining currency with both sides and we will see what will happen in the days ahead."
But in a brief exchange with reporters, he acknowledged every suicide bombing amounts to a setback. Israeli officials have been warning of a major assault against the Palestinians if Mr. Arafat does not take action to stop them.
"This is the time for Chairman Arafat to get on television, to get on radio, to speak to his people, to tell them that they are destroying their own desire and vision for a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel, behind secure and recognizable borders," said Mr. Powell. "This is the time to stop this kind of activity... This sort of activity and the tolerance of this sort of activity will destroy the very vision that the Palestinian Authority stands for and Chairman Arafat says he is committed to."
Despite Wednesday's setbacks, the Bush administration plans to keep Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni in the region even though his two week visit has yet to lead to a cease-fire or stem the violence.