Secretary of State Colin Powell held talks with Spanish leaders in Madrid as he began a U.S. push to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process through the international "road map" presented to the parties on Wednesday. Mr. Powell will visit Syria and Lebanon later this week, and return to the region for direct talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders next week.
The week, which saw the inauguration of a new reform-minded Palestinian Prime Minister and the release of the so-called "roadmap," has also been marred by a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and a lethal Israeli military incursion in Gaza.
At a news conference after talks with Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio, Mr. Powell said the familiar cycle of violence must not be allowed to derail hopes generated by the "roadmap," which aims for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict by the end of 2005.
"We can not let these sorts of incidents immediately contaminate the roadmap or contaminate the process that we are now involved in," he said. "This is the time for Abu Mazen and Prime Minister Sharon to keep driving on, with the help of the United States and other members of the international community, with the help of Spain, to find the peaceful way forward, even then faced with these kinds of tragic scenes that we have seen in recent days."
After a visit Friday to Albania, Mr. Powell goes on to Syria and concludes the trip with the stop Saturday in Beirut. Mr. Powell said he expected candid talks, but no breakthrough in what will be his first visit to Damascus in a year.
He said he will try to persuade Syrian leaders to reconsider past policies in light of what he called a "new strategic dynamic" in the region with the fall of Saddam Hussein and the seating of a new Palestinian government. On Wednesday, the State Department again included Syria on its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Mr. Powell's talks in Spain were otherwise dominated by the situation in Iraq.
The Madrid government gave Washington critical diplomatic support before the conflict, though the war is politically-unpopular in Spain where public opinion is still inflamed by the killing of a Spanish television cameraman by U.S. tank fire in Baghdad April 8.
At the news conference, Mr. Powell called the journalist's death a "tragic accident of war," but said the matter remains under investigation. He also said under questioning the United States would not oppose Islamic influence in a new Iraqi government, though he said he does not believe Iraqis will choose theocratic rule.
"We believe that the Iraqi people, freed of this dictatorship, and seeing what the possibilities are for the future, will embrace a democratic form of government and that is what we are encouraging them to do and working with them to do, democratic being 'small d.' It does not mean it cannot also be an Islamic country. It is an Islamic country, just as Turkey is a Muslim country with a democratic system. And we hope that is the direction in which they will move, and we see no inconsistency between their faith and the values of democracy that we all hold dear."
Albania is one of several formerly-communist central and eastern European states which also gave the Bush administration's Iraq policy strong political support.
In Tirana, Mr. Powell will join the foreign ministers of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia in signing the Adriatic Charter of Partnership, which underscores U.S. backing for the three Balkans countries' efforts at integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions, including eventual NATO membership.