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Mideast 'Quartet' Reaffirms Faith in 'Road Map' - 2004-05-04

The so-called quartet of peace mediators have reaffirmed their faith in the "Road Map" plan for a settlement of the Israeli Palestinian dispute.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called representatives of the other three members of the quartet, Russia, the United States and the European Union, to New York, amid concern that their "road map" for peace had been mortally wounded by recent events.

After a two-hour closed-door session Tuesday, Mr. Annan said the quartet views the present Middle East situation with great concern. But sitting alongside Secretary of State Colin Powell, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana, he said all favor the two-state solution outlined in the "road map."

"We reaffirm our commitment to our shared vision of two states living side by side in peace and security. One of those states will be Israel, and the other a viable, democratic, sovereign and contiguous Palestine," he said.

The quartet applauded Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to end the occupation of Gaza, even though Mr. Sharon's own party rejected the proposal in a referendum Sunday.

The statement read by Secretary General Annan called for a prompt handover of evacuated lands to the Palestinian Authority.

"This initiative, which must lead to a full Israeli withdrawal and complete end of occupation in Gaza, can be a step towards achieving the two-state vision, and could restart progress on the "road map," he said

Speaking to reporters afterward, Secretary of State Powell sought to reassure Palestinians that the Bush administration had not abandoned their hope for a separate state. Mr. Powell said the Arab world and the Palestinians should be reassured.

"They know the president has not abandoned them, has not abandoned the hope for the creation of a Palestinian state, he has not abandoned the vision he laid out in June of 2002," he said.

Secretary Powell said he looks on recent developments in the Middle East as an opportunity to be seized.

Secretary General Annan told reporters afterward that he believes the road map for peace may be in distress, but is not dead. He noted that the communiqué issued after Tuesday's meeting pushes the peace process forward in ways that have not been done before.