The Bush administration began a renewed push for Middle East peace Wednesday with release of the international "roadmap" that aims for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord within three years. Secretary of State Colin Powell will spearhead the drive with two trips to the region in the next two weeks.
The "roadmap", the product of months of work by U.S., Russian, European Union and U.N. diplomats, was delivered to the two parties only hours after new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and his reformist cabinet were sworn into office.
U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurzter presented the document to Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon while Mr. Abbas received his from U.N. envoy Terje Larsen.
In Senate testimony, Secretary of State Powell said he telephoned both prime ministers to urge their support for what President Bush described in a statement as a "starting point" toward a vision of a secure Israel coexisting with a viable and democratic Palestine.
"I had an opportunity to call both prime ministers early this morning and to encourage them to do everything in their respective powers to make sure we get a good start down this path to peace. A new opportunity is being created. It's an opportunity that must not be lost," he said. "And I was very pleased at the response of both prime ministers, who are anxious to move forward."
The "road map," made public for the first time, calls for corresponding security and political steps leading to full Palestinian statehood and Arab-wide recognition of Israel by the end of 2005.
In an initial phase, to begin immediately, the Palestinians are called upon to undertake an unconditional cessation of violence, resume security cooperation with Israel, and move on political reforms including free elections to lay the basis for statehood.
Israel would pull its forces back from areas occupied after the Palestinian uprising began in September of 2000 and freeze settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza.
A second phase, in the second half of this year, would include an international conference to support Palestinian economic recovery and statehood for the Palestinians within provisional borders.
The third phase, next year and in 2005, would resolve the key final-status issues including borders, refugees, Israeli settlements and Jerusalem, and include peace accords between Israel and Syria and Lebanon.
Mr. Powell will visit Damascus and Beirut later this week as he begins his personal diplomacy in the region. He told Senators Wednesday he supports a role for Syria in the process but said it will require policy changes by the Damascus government.
"If Syria wants to be a part of that comprehensive solution, and I believe it does, President Bashar Assad has said it to me on a couple of occasions, then it has to review the policies it's been following with respect to the support of terrorist activities and the control they have over forces in Lebanon that present a threat to northern Israel," he said. "So we'll have a good discussion of all of these issues. And I will gauge the willingness of Syria to engage with us."
Mr. Powell's visit to Syria, his first in a year, follows a crisis in relations over U.S. charges that Syria allowed Arab militants into Iraq to fight for Saddam Hussein, and later gave shelter to Iraqi fugitives.
The crisis eased after Syria said it had sealed its border, but Wednesday the State Department again listed Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism.