The Bush administration is returning its diplomatic focus to the Middle East sending two envoys to the region this week to lay the groundwork for a planned international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The administration is sending Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns to the region on a mission beginning late Tuesday, and CIA Director George Tenet will join him late in the week for new U.S. efforts to restart the regional peace process.
The announcement came from Secretary of State Colin Powell in Rome, who said Mr. Burns' agenda will include talks on what he termed the "transformation" of the Palestinian Authority.
The secretary said the CIA chief will leave later, perhaps Friday, for security talks with the parties.
The Burns mission is expected to include political talks in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in addition to meetings with top Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Mr. Tenet will focus on trying to re-establish counter-terrorism cooperation between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials. A veteran of Middle East negotiations dating to the Clinton administration, Mr. Tenet brokered an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire deal a year ago that has yet to be implemented.
At a Rome news conference, Secretary Powell said that based on the Burns and Tenet missions and other contacts, the administration will examine ideas for how to proceed in peace efforts in advance of the international conference.
"When we get reports back from Mr. Tenet and Ambassador Burns, and we consult with other people, we will start to integrate all this information and see what steps should be taken, keeping in mind that we are committed to a meeting sometime in the summer. We will bring these threads together humanitarian economic development, humanitarian relief, economic development, restructuring of the Palestinian Authority, working with the Palestinians, the role of the moderate Arabs," Mr. Powell said.
The international conference was jointly proposed on May third by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, though U.S. officials have lately been down-playing expectations for the ministerial-level gathering.
Under questioning in Rome, Secretary Powell said the United States is "not at this point" ready to put forward a peace plan with deadlines for its implementation but did not rule out the possibility of such an initiative later.
The administration has endorsed the land-for-peace initiative of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah as at least a "vision" of what a final Middle Peace might look like.
More talks on the Saudi proposal are expected next week when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak visits Washington.