Bush administration to release Mideast 'road map' soon
White House spokesman: 'This is a priority for the president'
From John King
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration plans to move quickly to publish its long-awaited "road map" for Israeli-Palestinian peace now that Abu Mazen has been confirmed as the first Palestinian prime minister, officials said Tuesday.
"The president is going to work very hard to try to help the parties come together to achieve a two-state solution to the violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters. "This is a priority for the president, and he's committed to it."
Officials said the proposal will be formally delivered to the parties this week -- perhaps as early as Wednesday -- and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will travel to the region in hopes of revitalizing the long-stalled peace process.
Powell will visit Syria and Lebanon on a previously scheduled trip this week and return to the region, possibly next week, on a separate trip once the Palestinian Cabinet has begun its work, officials said.
Bush administration officials said arrangements are under way for U.S. officials in the Mideast to deliver copies of the road map. President Bush then will make a public statement urging Israel and the Palestinians to, as one official put it, "seize a moment of hope and optimism."
The official said Wednesday is the target date, "assuming the various logistics are finalized."
The timetable and steps called for in the road map have been known to the parties for some time, but Bush refused to make them public until the Palestinians installed a new prime minister and took most day-to-day decision-making away from President Yasser Arafat.
The road map calls for both sides to take immediate steps. For the Palestinians, the immediate emphasis is on security improvements. For the Israelis, the short-term steps include ending the seizure of Palestinian property and easing travel bans and other economic restrictions on the Palestinians.
Over the next two years, the document requires more difficult steps, including Palestinian political reforms and elections, an end to Israeli settlement activities, negotiations on the borders of a provisional Palestinian state by early 2004 and then "final status" negotiations aimed at producing an independent Palestinian state by the end of 2005.
The administration has said it will ignore objections raised by both parties and publish the road map as it was drafted in December in concert with Russia, the European Union and United Nations. But the administration said the Israelis and Palestinians can negotiate changes.
That approach is designed because of political reality and for tactical reasons; the White House rules out changes now because it wants to, in effect, force the parties into face-to-face negotiations.
At the same time the administration concedes its list of benchmarks and timelines will be useless if there is not a genuine commitment to peace from the Israelis and Palestinians.
Administration officials said that Powell, during his return trip to the region, will invite Abu Mazen to visit the White House, an offer never extended to Arafat in the 27 months of the Bush administration.
Powell's first trip is set for May 1 to May 3 with stops in Europe and the Middle East. It includes a previously discussed stop in Syria to discuss U.S. concerns about that nation's alleged support of terrorist groups and its conduct during the war in Iraq.
Then, as early as next week, Powell will return to the region for a "road map" trip that is to include stops in Israel and Gaza, and possibly some Mideast capitals, officials said.
"That visit will afford the secretary an opportunity to advance the president's vision of two states -- Israel and an independent Palestine -- living side-by-side in peace and security," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a statement. That statement did not specify when that second trip would take place.