WASHINGTON – President Bush is sending envoy William Burns to the Middle East Tuesday night with CIA director George J. Tenet likely to follow this weekend as the administration launches a new effort to start peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Burns will survey the region, seeking the views of Egyptian, Saudi Arabian and Jordanian officials as well as those of Israel and the Palestinians, while Tenet intends to focus on revamping security arrangements on the West Bank and in Gaza.
The administration already has offered a broad outline of what it wants to see come out of peace talks, including an international foreign ministers meeting this summer, a Palestinian state, a more democratic Palestinian Authority, massive aid to the Palestinians and security for Israel against terror attacks.
But, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday in Rome, "we are not at this point prepared to table an American plan with specific deadlines."
"When we get reports back from Mr. Tenet and Ambassador Burns and we consult with a lot of other people we will start to integrate all this information and see what next steps should be taken," Powell said.
Hampering the administration is the relentless terror visited on Israel by Palestinian militants. They have continued to strike into Israel itself, belying the theory the terror is aimed at Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
A Palestinian suicide bomber Monday killed an elderly woman and her 18-month-old granddaughter near Tel Aviv. More than 50 others were injured in the explosion.
President Bush condemned the attack but like his presidential predecessors said violence against Israel would not stop the United States from pushing for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Last year, Bush and Powell agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that there must be a period of calm before peacemaking could begin. Pressed by Arab and European leaders, the administration has swung over to the more traditional view of the State Department that peacemaking is the answer to terror and should not be delayed.
"There are people who don't want peace and therefore are willing to kill," the president told reporters. "We strongly deplore and condemn terrorist violence."
And, Bush said, "all of us, all of us involved in the process -- Arab nations, the Palestinians, Americans, Europeans, Israelis -- must do everything we can to stop terrorist action."
Powell has spoken frequently of accelerating what he calls the "political process." And last year the administration adopted a timeline, beginning with a sharp decline in violence. But as the terror persisted, and the advise to get moving poured in from the Arabs and Europeans, Powell said tightening security could coincide with other peacemaking gestures.
In the meantime, efforts to revive a cease-fire were sidetracks.
The peacemaking formula the administration follows was outlined by a commission headed by former Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell of Maine.
It begins with a cease-fire and calls on Israel and the Palestinians to make mutual concessions. Israel, for instance, would stop building homes for Jews on the West Bank and in Gaza. Powell has called settlements destructive to the peace process.
One question that awaits reports from Tenet and Burns and further consultation with the Arabs -- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is due in Washington next week to see Bush -- is whether to propose a timetable for those steps in an effort to end the stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians.
Gradually, however, the Bush administration has moved more directly into peacemaking. Bush's call for establishment of a Palestinian state is unprecedented among U.S. presidents. And Powell's criticism of Jewish settlements is rivaled only by the Carter administration's judgment in the late 1970s that Israel's hold on the West Bank and Gaza is illegal.
Bush outlined his support for Palestinian statehood in a speech April 4. "What we're doing is executing the strategy the president laid out," Powell said in Rome.