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Powell Promises Continued US Engagement on Mideast 'Road Map' - 2003-05-22

Secretary of State Colin Powell Thursday promised continued U.S. engagement in trying to implement the "road map" to an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Senior Israeli and Palestinian envoys met top administration officials in Washington this week, and there are reports that President Bush may soon engage in some personal Middle East diplomacy.

Mr. Powell, who spoke to reporters in Paris, confirmed that Israeli and Palestinian emissaries met senior White House officials Wednesday in an effort, he said, to try to "bridge some of the differences" barring the way to implementing the road map.

The New York Times reported in its Thursday editions that the envoys, Palestinian finance minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's chief-of-staff Dov Weisglass, held separate meetings with President Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and others to try to reduce tensions and start talks.

Formally released less than a month ago, the international "road map" to a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace within three years, has stalled amid renewed violence that prompted Mr. Sharon to cancel a Washington visit this week.

In his news conference at the G8 foreign ministers meeting in Paris, Mr. Powell said Middle East peace-making is "always tough."

But he said the administration is "committed to taking advantage" of the opportunity in the region presented by the fall of Saddam Hussein and the seating of a new Palestinian government headed by Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, whom he described as a "good interlocutor."

Mr. Powell, who has made two Middle East trips in a span of three weeks, said there will be continued engagement on his part and by President Bush, to try to get the parties together and recognize what needs to be done to restore the peace process.

"We have to end the terror and violence that must come to an end. And at the same time the Israeli side has to be prepared to take steps that would improve the conditions of daily life for the Palestinian people," he said. "And also steps that will provide to the Palestinian people a sense of what awaits them in the future. What awaits them in the future is the vision that President Bush has of two states living side-by-side in peace."

President Bush made telephone calls Tuesday to Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon, and at his news conference Mr. Powell said early meetings between the President and the two leaders are also possible.

Among options reported under consideration are a Washington meeting next month, or a stop in the Middle East to be added to the European trip President Bush begins late next week.

In his talks in Washington, the Sharon envoy, Mr. Weisglass, is said to have reiterated that terror attacks against Israelis must end before serious peacemaking can begin.

The New York Times said a focus of the meeting with the Israeli envoy was a U.S. plea for Prime Minister Sharon to drop his refusal to endorse the "road map."

It also quoted diplomats as saying the talks also covered a proposed pull-back of Israeli troops in Gaza to be replaced by Palestinian forces under the control of the Abbas government's new security chief Muhammad Dahlan.