Secretary of State Colin Powell says those behind Thursday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem "have struck a blow" against Palestinian aspirations for statehood. He telephoned Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath to urge action by the Palestinian Authority against terrorist factions.
Mr. Powell called Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to express condolences for what he termed a "horrendous" attack. And officials say he telephoned Mr. Shaath to reiterate what he said in a talk with reporters earlier in the day, that terrorism is putting Palestinian statehood hopes, and the international "road map" to Middle East peace, in jeopardy.
"The longer time goes by without progress because we can't get it going, the parties can't moving because of this terrorist activity, the more difficult it will be to achieve the goals laid out in the road map with respect to a timetable," he said. "It's time to end the terror, and the Palestinian leadership has to realize this and face it."
Introduced a year ago but largely unimplemented, the "road map" calls for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the end of next year.
Mr. Powell expressed confidence that if the Palestinians took the requisite steps to curb terrorism, Israel would be forthcoming on its "road map" obligations and on U.S. calls to ease humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian areas.
Thursday's suicide bus bombing, near Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's official residence in Jerusalem, came a day after an Israeli military incursion in Gaza that killed nine people.
News reports said five of those killed were fighters from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group identified by the State Department as a terrorist organization, and the four others were civilian bystanders.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States regrets every death that occurs in the conflict and has tried through its diplomacy to stop the violence.
But he refused under questioning to equate the Israeli operation in Gaza to the Jerusalem bombing, saying Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorism.
"If there are actions involving terrorist groups, if there are terrorist groups that are attacking or about to attack Israel, we think Israel has a right to defend itself," he said. "That is different than setting off a bomb in a bus full of people. And I told you that the beginning of this conversation, I am not drawing any equivalence between those actions."
Mr. Boucher said while upholding Israel's right to defend itself, the United States has repeatedly cautioned Israel to consider the consequences of any action it might take.
The bus attack disrupted efforts by two senior U.S. envoys to set up high-level security talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials.
The State Department said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield was returning to Washington, while special envoy John Wolf would continue talks in the region.