Israel's new foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, met with top U.S. officials Monday, as the Bush administration prepared for the early release of the international "roadmap" to an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Bush National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, meanwhile, said the peace plan is not negotiable.
Mr. Shalom, on his first visit to Washington since assuming his Cabinet post, got high profile treatment in Washington - reflecting the Bush administration's eagerness to see action on the Israeli-Palestinian peace front, even as the war with Iraq continues.
President Bush dropped in on a meeting the Israeli Foreign Minister was having with White House National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Mr. Shalom had what was termed a "working lunch" with Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The Bush administration says it intends to release the long-awaited Middle East peace "roadmap" as soon as Mahmoud Abbas is confirmed as the Palestinians' new prime minister.
Developed jointly by the four-party "quartet" on the Middle East - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - the peace plan provides a timetable for corresponding steps by Israel and the Palestinians, leading to a final peace accord within three years.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been unenthusiastic about the roadmap. But in a talk with reporters here, Mr. Shalom, a close confidante of the prime minister, said his government "is adopting" the vision of President Bush for a two-state solution of the conflict.
He said the pending confirmation of Mr. Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, as Palestinian prime minister opens a "new path" toward a renewed peace process. But he said efforts will go nowhere, unless he launches an early crackdown against Palestinian terrorist factions.
"I think that, if Abu Mazen will not take the right measures against terror when he comes into office, in his first or second month, he won't be able to do it after that," he said. "And, I think, it will be very important for him and for the future of the region that he take those measures against Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations, when he comes to office. You have to understand that we won't be able to go forward and get progress, unless the terror ends, and that is something that is very acceptable and understandable to the [Bush] administration."
Earlier, addressing the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, White House security adviser Rice said the administration expects comments from the two parties on the roadmap, but said the document itself - the product of nearly a year's work by the "quartet" partners - will not be renegotiated.
Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the same group Sunday night, saying President Bush's vision requires an end to the Palestinians' use of violence and terror as a political tool.
But he said Israel has obligations, too, including steps to end what he termed "the daily humiliation" of life for Palestinians under occupation, and an end to Israeli settlement activity in the "occupied territories."