The White House says U.S. officials in the Middle East are continuing to push for a cease-fire between Israeli and Palestinian forces. The Bush Administration says that is the best way forward toward a political settlement.

U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni has been pushing for a ceasefire in the Middle East as a first step toward resuming a political dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says President Bush is not opposed to political talks before a ceasefire, but he says it would be hard to achieve a peaceful settlement without an end to the violence.

"He thinks the violence makes it harder to achieve a political solution. The president remains committed to both a political solution and to a diminution of the violence. The two do go together. But the president thinks it is much harder to have, it's just logical. So long as there is violence, it is very hard for both parties to engage in meaningful political talks," he said.

As General Zinni continues to work toward a ceasefire, Mr. Fleischer says the president is committed to a political solution which he believes will be much easier after a ceasefire takes hold.

"The president understands the political element to this and that is why he is committed to helping bring the parties together," he said. "But realistically speaking, if you live on the ground in the Middle East today and there is so much violence, it makes it much harder to enter into meaningful political talks until the violence can be diminished, eliminated, or brought under control."

Mr. Fleischer's comments were seen in some quarters as a slight policy shift at a time when Arab allies are calling on the Bush Administration to get more deeply involved in the peace process.

Mr. Fleischer says the Administration has never made a ceasefire a pre-requisite for political talks. He says the two are intertwined. They can work independently or they can work together, he says, the important thing is for both sides to make progress toward peace.