The State Department's chief Middle East expert, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns, is en route to London for a meeting Tuesday with counterparts from Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. The objective of the meeting of the so-called Middle East "quartet" is to build support for the Middle East peace proposals announced by President Bush last week and discuss what is termed a "work plan" for Palestinian reforms.
The meeting of the "quartet" is the first such gathering since last week's launch of the Bush plan, which calls for Palestinian statehood alongside Israel, but also puts heavy stress on the need for reform and change of leadership in the Palestinian Authority.
Russia and several of the United States' European allies have since taken issue with the President's implicit call for the replacement of Yasser Arafat and have said they will continue to deal with him if he is re-elected in elections planned for January.
However, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says differences over that issue have tended to obscure a broad consensus on the main points of the Bush plan, including his vision for Palestinian statehood and the responsibilities both the Palestinians and Israel have to revive the peace process.
Mr. Boucher said the administration is not trying to dictate to the Palestinian people who should run their affairs, but said they should also be aware the United States is not prepared to work with leaders it considers to be compromised by terror:
"We all agree Palestinians choose their leaders. What the United States has made clear, what the Secretary of State and the President have made clear, is that if we want to proceed down this road towards achievement of a Palestinian state that everybody wants to support, the Palestinian people need to be able to take their own responsibility in that matter," he said. "And we need to say quite clearly that we can work with them if they do. But if they don't, if the leadership on the Palestinian side persists in the present course, we're not going to get anywhere."
Secretary Powell told the French news agency AFP Monday the members of the "quartet" will share ideas on drawing up what he termed a "work plan" for Palestinian political and security reforms.
He said he expects to follow-up the London meeting with a session of the "quartet" at the foreign ministers' and equivalent level, and said he would hold talks on the "work plan" with key Arab leaders soon afterwards.
Mr. Powell gave no timetable for his follow-up meetings, but indicated they would be held overseas. He also said he did not think the administration's break with Mr. Arafat would complicate a trip to the Middle East.