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US Prepares to Release Mideast Peace 'Road Map' - 2003-04-28

Secretary of State Colin Powell met Jordan's Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher Monday as the Bush administration prepared to formally launch the "road map" to an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. The plan, drafted by the four-party international "quartet" on the Middle East, is due for release as soon as the new Palestinian cabinet of prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas gets legislative approval, perhaps as soon as Tuesday.

Approval of the new Palestinian government headed by Mr. Abbas will trigger a stepped-up U.S. role in Middle East peace efforts, including early travel to the region by Mr. Powell.

Meeting reporters with his Jordanian counterpart, Secretary Powell said he hoped Israel and the Palestinians will seize on the opportunity created by the seating of a reform-minded Palestinian cabinet.

"Both the minister and I expressed our hopes that both parties, the Palestinian and Israelis, will grab this new opportunity to achieve progress along the path to peace through the use of this road map," said Mr. Powell. "So we're encouraged by this development, the transformation within the Palestinian authority, that will allow the Palestinian people to have a prime minister who can be a responsible partner working with Israel and working with the United States, members of the "quartet," and the countries in the region, leaders in the region."

The product of months of work by the United States and its "quartet" partners, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, the "road map" calls for reciprocal security and confidence-building steps by both sides leading to a two-state solution to the conflict within three years.

Mr. Muasher said he was encouraged by the Bush administration's "resolve" to see the road map implemented, and said Jordan would work with the new Palestinian government to make sure that the "proper conditions" are created on the ground to re-launch the peace process.

But he said Israel should do it part with early steps to ease the conditions of everyday life for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza:

"I think what we all want to see is tangible differences on the ground, differences that would indicate to Palestinians in particular that there is indeed hope that the peace process is finally re-launched and that their lives have changed," said Mr. Muasher. "We would like to see Israel lift the curfews, stop demolition of homes. We would like to see an end to settlement activity and we would like to see the security situation also stabilized. So these are the kind of early activities that we would be looking at to see whether we can indeed translate the road map into a tangible difference on the ground."

Earlier, at a Washington policy seminar, Israel's ambassador to Washington Danny Ayalon said his government sees the pending confirmation of Mr. Abbas as a "positive step" in the right direction. But he said progress toward peace will depend on Palestinian action to curb terrorism.

Officials here say Mr. Powell will likely take part in a news conference launching the "road map" after the vote by Palestinian legislators. But they say the contents of the peace plan are already well-known and that what is important is the readiness of both sides to work together on its implementation.

Mr. Powell is expected to begin his first trip to the Middle East in a year later this week and visit several Arab countries.

But officials say he might not meet Mr. Abbas and Israeli leaders until a second trip to the region later in May. One senior official said the secretary of state wants to give the incoming Palestinian prime minister some time "to get his feet on solidly on the ground" before beginning the high-profile talks.