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Powell Continues Garnering Support for Mideast 'Road Map' For Peace - 2003-05-13

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has been promoting the new international "road map" for Middle East peace during a visit to the region. He concludes his tour of the Middle East with talks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after visiting Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, and Jordan. During a news conference in Jordan's capital, his next-to-last stop, Mr. Powell vowed the United States is committed to implementing this latest peace plan.

During meetings in Amman, the Jordanian message was clear: the road map should be implemented immediately. That was repeated by Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher at a joint news conference with Secretary Powell.

"We believe the time has come for all parties to accept the road map. The Arab party has done that, the Palestinians have done that," stressed Mr. Muasher. "At the same time, we also believe that Israel has to accept the road map."

Mr. Muasher said the road map addresses Israel's security concerns and there is no reason why Israel cannot accept it.

Mr. Powell's mission to the region has met with criticism and skepticism among Arabs, because he has been unable to get Israel to endorse the road map, while the Palestinians have said they want it implemented as quickly as possible.

The road map sets a specific timetable for Israel and the Palestinians to take certain steps, including a halt to Palestinian militant attacks against Israel, an Israeli halt to settlement expansion and the dismantling of some settlement outposts in the Palestinian territories. The plan is to lead to an independent Palestinian state by 2005 to exist side-by-side with Israel. The plan also envisions a broader peace in the region between Israel and other Arab states.

In Amman, Secretary Powell said it is vital that both sides start the process. "To move forward, Palestinians will have to move quickly and decisively against those who cling to the path of violence and terror to achieve their ends," he said. "And at the same time the state of Israel must do its part to immediately improve the daily lives of Palestinians to restore hope and show respect for the dignity of the Palestinian people. This is the only way we will create an environment for peace," he explained.

Following Secretary Powell's talks Sunday with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, Israel announced some measures to ease restrictions on Palestinians and released some Palestinian prisoners. But many Palestinians described those measures as "cosmetic," and instead pointed to the fact that on Monday Israel again imposed a full closure on the Gaza Strip for security reasons.

Prime Minister Sharon has repeatedly said his country is ready for peace and to make painful concessions when the time comes. But, he has also said he would like to see changes to the road map and that he intends to personally discuss his concerns with President Bush later this month.

Secretary Powell said Washington is ready to hear concerns expressed by either side, but he said the United States believes the best way forward toward peace is through the road map. "Israel knows that the road map lays out the steps that have to be taken. They have some comments on the road map and we will listen to their comments, but we do not plan to rewrite or renegotiate the road map," Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Powell also said it is important that Prime Minister Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, negotiate their differences face-to-face. The two leaders are expected to meet later this week.

Mr. Powell also strongly condemned a suicide bomb attack on a residential compound for foreigners Monday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. "Once again it reminds us that terrorism is a global phenomenon that we must all fight," Mr. Powell said.

As he traveled through the region, Mr. Powell also discussed the situation in Iraq. He said the United States wants to see a stable and democratic Iraq, governed by Iraqis, that lives in peace with its neighbors.