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April 02, 2003

U.S. to release "road map" to Middle East peace

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WASHINGTON -- The United States will mount a forceful diplomatic campaign to implement an international plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians while war rages in Iraq, according to top State Department officials.

In the coming weeks, the Bush administration hopes to release the so-called "road map," a plan that lays out steps both sides should take to halt two-and-a-half years of violence. Then the administration will coax both sides to take action.

There will be "a fairly aggressive push" to implement the peace plan, which foresees an eventual Palestinian state at peace with Israel, said a senior State Department official. He was expanding on comments in recent days by Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Bush.

Powell was to spell out the U.S. position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an address to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, the principal Jewish-American lobby, on Sunday night.

The secretary of state believes that implementing the peace plan would require difficult steps by both sides, another department official said. That idea is sometimes interpreted as insisting that Israel be prepared to remove Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Bush administration officials say several calculations are driving the renewed diplomatic attempt to end the conflict.

One is an assessment that the Palestinian Authority has made good-faith efforts toward the political and financial reforms Washington has long demanded.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat recently named Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, to the post of prime minister, bowing -- at least in theory -- to demands that Arafat relinquish his monopoly on political power.

Washington has said it is waiting for Abbas to be confirmed in the position before making public the diplomatic road map, drafted by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.[more]