Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday he thinks prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace have been "enhanced" by the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. He reiterated the Bush administration's plan to release its long-awaited "roadmap" to a Middle East peace upon confirmation of a new Palestinian prime minister. Mr. Powell says the "roadmap", the product of months of work by the four-party international "quartet" on the Middle East, will be released without changes, despite complaints already registered by Israel and more expected from the Palestinian side once its new cabinet is confirmed.
At a news conference with foreign journalists in Washington, Mr. Powell reaffirmed the U.S. intention to publish the roadmap upon the confirmation of the cabinet of the new Palestinian government of incoming prime minister Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, which is expected within the few days.
The secretary said the "roadmap" will be unchanged from the draft approved by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations in December, and he advised Israel and the Palestinians to take up any reservations they may have about the plan with each other, in order to get the negotiating process going.
"These are comments that both sides have to begin to discuss with each other and share with each other," said Mr. Powell. "This is going to be a very difficult process, but I believe progress can be made if both sides enter this road map process with an understanding of the needs of the other side and with a good faith effort to use the new situation in the Palestinian Authority, a new leadership under the direction of Mr. Abu Mazen and with a newly elected government of Israel. We have a new opportunity, an opportunity, I think, that is enhanced by what has happened by the removal of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein."
The "roadmap" calls for a series of reciprocal security steps by Israel and the Palestinians leading to full Palestinian statehood, and Arab-wide recognition of Israel, by the end of 2005.
Under questioning, Mr. Powell said that dealing with the issue of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza is an essential part of the "roadmap" and that the U.S. view is that such activity "has to come to an end."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview published Sunday that he understood Israel would have to evacuate some settlements to get peace, and that he would support eventual Palestinian statehood.
But he also said the Palestinians would have to give up their "right of return" to what is now Israel if peace talks are to get anywhere.
An envoy of Mr. Sharon, his chief of staff Dov Weisglass, met senior Bush administration officials Monday. Mr. Weisglass said later in a written statement he is confident the United States will give serious consideration to Israel's views as the process moves forward.