President Bush met members of the diplomatic "quartet" on the Middle East Friday and said his administration is committed to the early completion of a "roadmap" for a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by 2005.
The quartet, which includes the United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations, appealed for an immediate, comprehensive cease-fire between the parties to expedite peace efforts.
The "roadmap" will not be finished for several more weeks, partly in deference to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's request that its formal release await his country's elections at the end of next month.
But at a White House photo session with the "quartet" principals, President Bush stressed his commitment to the emerging plan, which provides for a three-stage program of confidence-building measures and other steps by the regional parties, leading to a final peace deal including full Palestinian statehood by the end of 2005.
"It is a way forward. It sets conditions. It's a results-oriented document. It is a way to bring people together so that they share their responsibilities," said Mr. Bush. "We're assuming our responsibilities. The people in the neighborhood must assume their responsibilities. All nations must be committed to peace in order for us to achieve peace, must be committed to the vision of two states side-by-side in order to achieve the vision."
Mr. Bush said keys to moving forward include combating terrorism, developing democratic Palestinian institutions, and easing humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza. He said too many Palestinian parents "grieve over the future of their children" because of hunger, poverty and a lack of health care.
At the same photo shoot, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the "roadmap" is close to being finalized, and that its promise of a two-state solution will provide the dream that keeps regional peace hopes alive.
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, whose country holds the European Union's rotating presidency, said the four-party peace effort can succeed only if it is able to offer the prospect of a secure life to both sides in the conflict.
"I think it's very important that Israel knows it will live there forever in security. But they can only have that security if they give a political solution to the Palestinians," he said. "If the Palestinians know that their day will come, when they get the state, which makes them sure of their future that both have a future, and we have to help them with the future."
The "quartet," whose participants also included Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Secretary of State Colin Powell, earlier held some three hours of meetings at the State Department.
A lengthy joint statement by the group said there had been "substantial progress" toward finalizing the "roadmap" and that there would be further work on developing a credible and effective monitoring mechanism for the plan.
In the meantime, the "quartet" members urged Israel and the Palestinians to fulfil, as rapidly as possible, their responsibilities to restore calm, pursue reform and improve the humanitarian situation.
Specifically they called for an immediate and comprehensive cease-fire including an end to all acts of terror against Israelis, in any location.
They said a truce be accompanied by "supportive measures" by Israel, and said as calm is established, Israel should withdraw forces from Palestinian areas restoring the status-quo on the ground that existed before the start of violence more than two years ago.
The statement said there would be another meeting of "quartet" principals "in the near future" to adopt the roadmap and present it to the parties, presumably after the Israeli voting January 28.