Secretary of State Colin Powell conferred with senior Saudi, Israeli and Palestinian officials Friday as the administration finished up weeks of consultations leading to a Middle East policy statement by President Bush as early as next week.
Officials say the message by the president will propose a set of principles for moving toward a Middle East peace that will include a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Capping weeks of consultations with leaders from the region, Secretary Powell met first with Israel's outgoing military chief of staff General Shaul Mofaz and then with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.
But the last word in the U.S. fact-finding process was had by Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath, who said he delivered message to Mr. Powell from Chairman Yasser Arafat about Palestinian expectations for the Bush statement and the Middle East conference to be held later this summer.
Mr. Shaath said any U.S. blueprint for achieving an Israeli-Palestinian settlement should include a firm time-line for achieving a final peace calling a one-year-period a "reasonable" deadline so that there could be no procrastination or reversals in the negotiating process.
The Palestinian official did not reject out of hand the idea of declaring an interim, or provisional, Palestinian state in areas now controlled by the Palestinian Authority as suggested earlier this week by Secretary Powell.
However he said such a declaration should be based on an understanding that the eventual borders of the state will be those of the West Bank and Gaza before Israel occupied them in 1967 this, in line with the Saudi peace initiative endorsed by the Arab League earlier this year.
"Maybe this is the time to declare an independent state. But if we do, that state will have to be based on the border of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, based on this Arab plan," said Mr. Mr. Shaath. "And that is very a important requirement. And therefore the question is not a provisional no state can be provisional. It will have occupied territory like Lebanon did, like Syria did, like Jordan did, like Egypt did. The essence is whatever is done is done on the basis of the 1967 borders."
The Saudi foreign minister declined detailed extensive comment after his meeting with Mr. Powell and cancelled an embassy news conference he had planned.
But the Saudi prince, who met President Bush Thursday, said his government and the Bush administration agree on the "broad lines" of a approach he said would give Palestinians their "legitimate rights and a comfortable life" in their own state, and which would provide Israel with "security and normalization."
General Mofaz, meanwhile told a Middle East policy group in Washington there can be no meaningful progress on the political front with the Palestinian Authority as long as Yasser Arafat is in charge.
He also expressed doubt that the Mr. Arafat's appointee for security chief in his new cabinet Abel Razak Yehiyeh will be able to control and fight terrorism, because he is too closely-tied to the Palestinian leader.
Mr. Powell's talks coincided with a State Department meeting of mediators of the so-called "quartet" on the Middle East the United States, Russia, the European Union and the U.N. to discuss the form and timing of the ministerial-level conference on the Middle East expected sometime late this summer.