Secretary of State Colin Powell says President Bush will announce steps to advance the Middle East peace process shortly after talks later this week with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. He also again denied there has been any U.S. "green light" for Israeli raids in the West Bank.
Mr. Powell says the Saudi visit will round off more than two months of U.S. consultations with Middle East leaders and will be followed "in the very near future" by an address by President Bush providing "his vision" on how to move forward toward peace.
In a talk with reporters after meeting Australia's Prime Minister John Howard, the Secretary of State did not elaborate on the substance or timing of the Presidential statement.
However, he said an international conference on the Middle East sometime in the summer remains part of U.S. plans, even though the president himself suggested Monday that conditions were not yet right for such a meeting.
And Mr. Powell rejected the notion that Mr. Bush, in his meeting Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, had given Israel a "green light" for military operations in the West Bank including its latest moves around Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.
"The president did not use any traffic light metaphors yesterday. He had a good meeting with Prime Minister Sharon. They exchanged views. We understand that the incursion into Ramallah is of a limited duration, as they look for terrorists," he said. "And therefore we would expect it to end in the not-to-distant future, but I do not know when. The president not only understands Israel's right to defend itself, he also understands the need for us to find a political way to move forward so that we can deal with Israel's need for security, and the need of the Palestinian people for a future in a state that they can call their own."
Officials here insisted that the Saudi foreign minister's meeting had been under discussion since last week and was not suddenly requested by the Saudis out of concern over the results of the Bush-Sharon talks.
Mr. Bush spoke by telephone Tuesday with Saudi Arabia's de-facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, and is expected to meet the Saudi foreign minister on Thursday.
Prime Minister Sharon, meanwhile, wrapped up his Washington visit with meetings key congressional committees.
He told House members that Mr. Arafat and his associates have done nothing to stop suicide bombings like Tuesday's attack in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya, and said success in peacemaking depends on a decline in terror and democratic reform within the Palestinian Authority.