United States promised Friday to "fully and seriously" address Israeli concerns about the international "road map" to peace with the Palestinians. The pledge is expected to be followed by Israeli acceptance of the peace plan and stepped up U.S. diplomacy for its implementation, including a possible three-way summit. U.S.-led diplomacy on the "road map" had stalled less than a month after its formal release, amid Israeli demands for a halt to Palestinian terror attacks as a condition for its acceptance of the plan.
Now, Israel has apparently been persuaded to accept the document following a U.S. pledge that its concerns will be fully addressed as the plan for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict within three years is implemented.
The administration commitment came in a statement issued in the name of Secretary of State Colin Powell and Bush national security adviser Condoleezza Rice by the traveling White House press office in Crawford, Texas.
It said that in responding to the "road map," Israel has explained its "significant concerns" about it. It said the United States shares the view that the concerns are real, and will address them "fully and seriously" as the peace plan is implemented.
Shortly after the U.S. statement, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said Israel is ready to accept the provisions of the "road map" and that the plan would be presented to the cabinet for approval, apparently when it meets Sunday.
The developments followed a Washington visit earlier this week by a senior envoy of Mr. Sharon, Dov Weisglass, who met top administration officials including Ms. Rice.
No details of the substance of the talks have been given. But at a news conference in Paris where he met other G8 foreign ministers, Secretary Powell, said the "road map" itself, the product of months of work by U.S., Russian, European Union and United Nations diplomats, is not being changed.
"We have told the Israeli government that we would take their comments into consideration and address them fully and seriously as we went forward in the implementation of the road map," secretary Powell said. " But this does not require us to change the road map. It is a good document that leads to the president's vision of two states, living in peace, side-by-side, the vision that I think all of us here hold."
Any decision to change the "road map" would have been likely to anger Arab leaders, including the new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who accepted the plan as a basis for negotiations upon its formal release April 30.
The document calls for a series of corresponding security and political steps by Israel and the Palestinians leading to a final settlement providing for full Palestinian statehood and Arab-wide recognition of Israel by the end of 2005.
The plan is already close to being behind schedule. The first phase of the program, calling for, among other things, a freeze on Israeli settlement activity and an unconditional cessation of Palestinian violence, is supposed to be completed by the end of this month.
A wave of Palestinian suicide bomb attacks prompted Prime Minister Sharon to cancel a critical Washington visit this week.
Now, in an effort to get the plan on track, President Bush is reportedly considering a three-way summit with the Israel and Palestinian leaders, possibly during a Middle Eastern stop added to the European trip he begins late next week.