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US Plans 'Vigorous Leadership' in Implementing Mideast Peace Plan - 2003-04-29

Bush administration officials say the end of the war in Iraq will signal the beginning of a major effort to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The United States is expected to release the so-called "roadmap" designed to end 31 months of violence that has killed more than 700 Israelis and 2,000 Palestinians.

As reconstruction efforts begin in Iraq, the Bush administration is turning its attention to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The key document is the roadmap developed by the so-called "quartet" which includes the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union.

Secretary of State Colin Powell says the Palestinians' decision to name a new Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas will lead to efforts to implement the roadmap - a step-by-step plan to end the violence and bring about the creation of a Palestinian state.

"So we're encouraged by this development, the transformation within the Palestinian Authority, that will allow the Palestinian people to have a prime minister who can be a responsible partner working with Israel and working with the United States, members of the Quartet, and the countries in the region, leaders in the region, to move forward to our goal, which is to create a Palestinian state in a period of time that President Bush suggested, within a three-year period of time," he said.

Palestinian leaders say they want the roadmap implemented without changes while Israeli officials have presented possible amendments to the plan.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said his government wants tangible improvements for the Palestinians. "We would like to see Israel lift the curfews, stop demolition of homes. We would like to see an end to settlement activity, and we would like to see the security situation also stabilized," he said. "So these are the kind of early activities that we would be looking at to see whether we can indeed translate the road map into a tangible difference on the ground."

The Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, said the Jewish state will never accept any terms that are imposed on the parties or threaten Israel's security.

He says, however, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is prepared to make painful concessions for peace. "It is a give and take. They have their demands. We too have our demands. We have to sit and meet a common ground. So my point is that everything should be and will be done on a consensual basis, on direct negotiations and an agreed upon solution between us and the Palestinians. And of course we will need the help and facilitations of the international community in terms of financial, economic help, political help and otherwise," Mr. Ayalon said.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, William Burns, said the defeat of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq creates a diplomatic opportunity to renew the Middle East peace process.

"Well I think it obviously is a dramatic moment in the region," he said. "It is a moment when I think lots of peoples and leaderships in the region are taking a careful look at the challenges before them. Whether it is in terms of internal economic and social reforms, or in terms of long-standing regional conflicts, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think that does create a moment in which, with active American leadership, we can again begin to move in a much more hopeful direction than has been the case the last two and a half years. Again, I would never underestimate the difficulties or the challenges and I have no illusions about the path before us. But I really do believe that there is a moment here to renew some tangible hope for Israelis and Palestinians."

Mr. Burns said while the European Union, the United Nations and Russia will play a constructive role, "there will be no substitute for American leadership" in trying to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Burns said the United States is now prepared to show what he called "vigorous leadership" in implementing the road map and attempting once again to bring peace to the Middle East.