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Powell Reaffirms Middle East 'Roadmap' - 2003-03-26

Secretary of State Colin Powell reaffirmed Tuesday that the international "roadmap" to an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord will be released as soon as a Palestinian government headed by prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas is confirmed by legislators.

Mr. Powell says the United States and the other sponsors of the "roadmap" expect to hear comments from Israel and the Palestinians on the terms of the document. But he says it will be published as completed by American, Russian, European Union and United Nations officials last December, and that the Bush administration is anxious to move on its implementation.

Under development since last year by the so-called "quartet" on the Middle East, the "roadmap" calls for reciprocal steps by Israel and the Palestinians over a three-year period leading to a final peace accord including a Palestinian state with defined borders, and Arab-wide recognition of Israel.

The Bush administration is under political pressure from Arab allies to get progress on the Middle East peace front amid the war with Iraq, and the "roadmap" was a key issue in a meeting here late Tuesday between Mr. Powell and Spanish foreign minister Ana Palacio.

In a talk with reporters afterward, Mr. Powell declined to say flatly that the roadmap would be a take-it-or-leave it proposition. But he said the Bush administration wants to move on the plan and does not want to see extended commentary on the document from the two parties. "I'm sure there will be comments, and we'll see what those comments are. But it's important for us to get started and not just get into a circular discussion again that goes nowhere," he says. "So that's why we'll be issuing the roadmap, releasing it, as soon as Mr. Abu Mazen has been confirmed as the prime minister of the Palestinian government."

Palestinian lawmakers approved the creation of the prime minister's post earlier this month in a move that diminishes the authority of longtime leader Yasser Arafat as sought by the United States and other "quartet" members.

The prime minister designate, Mr. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, is in the process of forming a government and legislative approval of it is expected within a few weeks.