The foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have presented the Bush administration with a series of proposals aimed at setting up a reformed Palestinian government that could lead to statehood after Palestinian elections in January. The Arab ministers held talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell in advance of an afternoon White House meeting with President Bush.
The United States' Arab allies have chafed at the Bush administration's emphasis on restoring security before tackling the political aspects of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. And in the meeting with Mr. Powell, they presented the U.S. side with what Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said were "specific ideas" for advancing toward Palestinian statehood.
In comments to reporters afterward, Secretary Powell stressed the importance of early progress on the security front. But he said the focus of the nearly two-hour meeting was the political track. With the three Arab ministers at his side, he re-affirmed the administration's commitment to a final peace within three years.
"Only a political solution will bring an end to this tragic situation," Mr. Powell said. "And we reaffirmed for my colleagues President Bush's commitment to working as hard as possible, and the commitment of his government, of his administration, of working as hard as possible to try to achieve a final settlement within a three-year period of time."
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal depicted the quest for peace as a "journey" and said he is encouraged by what he heard from Mr. Powell that the journey "is going in the right direction." At the same time, the Saudi Minister made clear his view that the Middle East remains at a dangerous juncture and the possibility of disaster still looms.
"The Middle East is at a point where it has two divergent roads, one leading to disaster and another one leading to peace and security," Mr. Saud al-Faisal said. "We all have to push or pull towards peace and security and to prevent the road to disaster from pulling us apart."
The Washington Post newspaper said in its Thursday editions that proposals by the Arab ministers approved last week in Cairo would establish a new Palestinian government with a written constitution, an elected parliament, and a prime minister, that could be recognized as a state after the elections next January.
Yasser Arafat, with whom the United States has ceased direct dealings, would remain head of the Palestinian Authority until that time.
In an interview with U.S. public radio in advance of meeting his Arab counterparts, Mr. Powell said that while the Bush administration is "unable" to deal with Mr. Arafat, it is prepared to work with new Palestinian leaders "coming to the fore" who can act with authority and responsibility.
Under questioning, the Secretary mentioned the newly-appointed Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayad and Interior Minister Abdelrazak al-Yahia as two Palestinian figures who may be starting to fill a role he said is "badly needed to be filled."