Secretary of State Colin Powell is telephoning Middle East leaders to lay groundwork for his mission to the region next week. President Bush is sending him to the area in a stepped-up U.S. effort to stem Israeli-Palestinian violence.
While his aides worked furiously to revise what had been scheduled as a four-day European trip, Mr. Powell was on the phone to Middle East leaders preparing for the mission which represents a dramatic turn to top-level diplomacy by the Bush administration.
There were no immediate details of the secretary's stops in the region. Officials here say his phone calls Thursday to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Adullah and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah were a preview of his agenda in the Middle East.
Aides say he still plans to make a scheduled mid-week visit to Madrid for a dialogue with European Union foreign ministers and talks with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, but that he had scrapped a visit to Berlin because of his expanded travel plans.
Announcement of the Powell mission came from President Bush, who while again criticizing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for failing to confront terrorism, called on Israel to halt its incursions in the West Bank and begin the withdrawal from the cities it has occupied over the past week.
"I speak as a committed friend of Israel," said Mr. Bush. "I speak out of a concern for its long-term security, a security that will come with a genuine peace. As Israel steps back, responsible Palestinian leaders and Israel's Arab neighbors must step forward and show the world they are truly on the side of peace. The choice and the burden will be theirs."
The president said the world expects an immediate cease-fire, an immediate resumption of Palestinian security cooperation with Israel and an immediate orders for a crack-down on terrorist networks.
Both Israel and the Palestinians welcomed the U.S. initiative, though there was no sign that Israel planned an early military pullback.
Officials here did cite, as a good omen for the Powell trip, Israel's decision to allow a meeting Friday between U.S. truce envoy Anthony Zinni and Mr. Arafat, who remains confined by Israeli troops to his offices at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.