Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher says this week's Israeli-Palestinian violence shows the urgency of action to renew the regional peace process. He met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Thursday to prepare for the Camp David meetings between President Bush and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that open Friday.
Mr. Maher, a former Egyptian ambassador to Washington, declined to be critical of the Bush administration, which has been engaged in a lengthy review of its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But in a talk with reporters after meeting Mr. Powell, the Foreign Minister said the suicide bus bombing in Israel Wednesday and Israel's subsequent incursions in the West Bank underline the need to get a political process going as soon as possible to both restore calm and create what he called "window of hope" for Israelis and Palestinians that this week's events will not be repeated:
"The situation as it is prevailing in the occupied territories is very serious and deangerous and there can be flare-ups like the ones we saw yesterday," he said. "Yesterday was a time of deep poise. We believe that both sides have to move seriously towards putting an end to the situation. And in this regard, movement by the United States, by Egypt, and by all the interested parties is essential, and if I may add, urgent."
Mr. Maher said he believes there is a determination on the part of the Bush administration to move rapidly on a settlement, though he said he was unaware of a specific U.S. peace plan thus far.
President Mubarak, in advance of his Washington arrival, outlined his own set of proposals including an early declaration of Palestinian statehood and the setting of a definitive time-line for negotiating the other outstanding issues between the two sides.
The Egyptian leader is to have separate meetings Friday with Secretary Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice before joining President Bush at Camp David late in the day for talks extending through Saturday.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is due in Washington to meet President Bush on Monday, after which the President and his key advisers are expected to map their strategy for how to proceed in the Middle East.
A key element will be the ministerial-level Middle East conference jointly proposed in early May by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations due to be held sometime this summer.
Despite news reports this week that the meeting is to be held in Turkey in late July, the State Department insisted again Thursday that no decisions have been made on a date, venue or agenda for the gathering.