Secretary of State Colin Powell and White House National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice met a senior Israeli envoy Monday as the Bush administration pondered ways to keep the U.S.-backed "road map" to Middle East peace on track. Mr. Powell is due to visit the region again starting late this week.
Secretary Powell and Ms. Rice held an unannounced meeting at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, in what officials later described as part of ongoing consultations on the "road map."
The plan, for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the end of 2005, was presented to the parties only six weeks ago but its future has been endangered by the violence in the region last week that killed more than 50 people on both sides, mainly civilians.
The White House meeting came as Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was in Gaza trying to secure a cease-fire commitment from militant factions including Hamas, which claimed responsibility for last week's most lethal incident, a suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 17 Israelis.
At a briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said a cease-fire by Hamas would be useful, but it should only be an interim step toward the dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure and the assertion of full security control by the Palestinian Authority:
"The idea of a cease-fire as a step along the way is a good one, but, ultimately, it has to lead to that kind of dismantlement that the President talked about -- denying them the ability to carry out attacks -- because Hamas is clearly an obstacle to peace that, along with the other violent groups, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, they've continued acts of terrorism, acts of violence that have resulted in death and destruction," said Mr. Boucher. "So we condemn those acts. They harm the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for an independent state."
Senior U.S. diplomat John Wolf arrived in Jerusalem Saturday and has begun talks with Israeli and Palestinian security officials, trying to lower the level of violence so that the focus can return to "road map" implementation.
Secretary Powell meanwhile, left Washington Monday on an overseas mission, starting with stops in Cambodia and Bangladesh, that will take him to Jordan late on Thursday. He will attend a special meeting of the World Economic forum at a Jordanian resort. But while there, he will also have a strategy session with his co-authors of the "road map" Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana.
Administration officials say Mr. Powell will have time during stay in Jordan to meet Mr. Sharon in Jerusalem and with Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas in the West Bank. But they say he has not yet committed himself to do so, partly because he does not want to draw attention away from the efforts of Mr. Wolf, on his first mission as U.S. "road map" coordinator.