Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a Middle East policy speech late Sunday, called on Syria and Iran to end support for terrorist groups opposed to Israel and to the regional peace process. He reaffirmed the Bush administration's plans for the early release of the international "road map" for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

Despite the war with Iraq, Mr. Powell says he believes this is a "hopeful moment," when progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace may again be possible. He reaffirmed the administration's plans to launch the long-awaited peace "road map" as soon as the new Palestinian government of incoming Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is approved by legislators.

Addressing the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, Mr. Powell strongly reaffirmed the United States' commitment to Israel's security. But he says Israel's security ultimately requires a real and lasting peace with its neighbors and he said that is "the reality behind the road map."

Under development since last year by the diplomatic "quartet" on the Middle East - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - the road map calls for a series of confidence measures by both sides, leading to full Palestinian statehood and Arab-wide recognition of Israel within three years.

Condemning Sunday's suicide bomb attack in the Israeli coastal town, Netanya, Mr. Powell said peace will require an end to the use of terror as a political tool and a reformed Palestinian government that is transparent, accountable and a "real partner" in negotiating efforts.

But he says Israel will have obligations too, starting with steps to ease the suffering of Palestinians and diminish what he termed "the daily humiliation of life under occupation." "Israel must also put economic hope in Palestinian hearts by helping revive the devastated economies of the West Bank and Gaza. Settlement activity is simply inconsistent with President Bush's two-state vision," says Mr. Powell. "As the president has said, quote, as progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end, unquote."

The secretary says the United States is demanding "more responsible behavior" from other states in the region and he had strong words for Syria and Iran.

Mr. Powell says it is time for the entire international community to "step up" and to insist that Iran end support for terrorists, including groups violently opposed to Israel and Middle East peace process. He says Syria faces a "critical choice" and can continue support for terror groups and what he termed the "dying regime" of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, or embark on a different, more hopeful course. Either way, Mr. Powell says, Syria "bears the responsibility for its choices, and for the consequences."