Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves Washington shortly for the Middle East and talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the international "road map" to a settlement of the conflict by the end of 2005. Mr. Powell says he thinks the fall of Saddam Hussein and the approval of a reformist Palestinian government augur well for peace efforts.
Mr. Powell says the task of implementing the "road map" will not be easy, as underscored by the violence in the area in the last few days. But in comments after talks Friday with the Emir of Qatar, the secretary said he is encouraged that strategic changes in the Middle East might provide a "fresh start" for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"I'm anxious to see if we cannot make progress as rapidly as possible and take advantage of the new strategic situation created by the end of the regime in Baghdad and the new strategic situation created by the appointment of a Palestinian prime minister and the presentation of the road map,"
Mr. Powell said Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas "must bring under control" Palestinian elements involved in violence and terrorism. He said he will press Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to fulfill Israel's obligations under the peace plan, and he appeared to dismiss Israeli pressure to amend the road map.
"We've laid it down and we realize that both sides will have comments on it and we're prepared to look at the comments," he said. "And really it's important for both sides to talk to each other. And let us not go into another endless loop of discussions and negotiations."
Appearing alongside Mr. Powell, the Qatari leader, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, said the "road map" is a good proposal, already accepted by the Palestinians, and said for it to be fulfilled, both sides will have to make sacrifices.
Mr. Powell is to hold talks Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon in Jerusalem and with Mr. Abbas in the nearby West Bank town of Ramallah.
U.S. officials say there are no plans for the secretary to meet Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat, whose leadership they say has been tainted by links to terrorism.
The secretary of state will brief leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia after his talks with the parties, and also visit Russia, Bulgaria and Germany before returning to Washington late next week.