WASHINGTON – As he sat down with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, President Bush noted that every time officials try to push the peace process forward, terrorists try to push it back.
"You know, it's very interesting these leaders came to our country to discuss peace and the terrorists attacked," Bush said during a White House meeting with Ahmed Maher of Egypt, Marwan Muasher of Jordan and Prince Saud Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia. "It's clear that a few want to damage the hopes of the many."
The president said it's no coincidence that terrorists strike whenever there is a high-level meeting, but asked the leaders not to be discouraged.
The Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi Arabian ministers sat down with the president and Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday to lay out a plan that they hope will get Palestinian reforms under way, and to find out what the administration is willing to do to get Israeli cooperation.
"We were very much moved by his tenacity and his insistence on going the full road," Prince Saud said.
The president has insisted that security for Israel must come first, a point he emphasized from the beginning of the meeting. He also has said that he is not interested in working with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat because Arafat has failed to stem terror attacks.
But the moderate nations, seen as crucial to a political solution, have not given up on Arafat, and the parties came together Thursday to debate the merits of the U.S. demands, as well as two plans offered by the Egyptians and Saudis.
Powell renewed the U.S. commitment to seeing through the creation of a Palestinian state, saying an end to violence and improved economic conditions should "move in parallel" with its creation.
"I reaffirmed to my colleagues President Bush's commitment to working as hard as possible in the commitment of his government, his administration ... to try and achieve a final settlement within a three-year period of time," Powell said after a meeting with the ministers earlier in the day.
"Only a political solution will bring an end to the tragic situation," he added. Earlier this week, Powell had suggested that security must come first.
The Arab nations said they are prepared to push the Palestinians to establish a new government with an elected prime minister and parliament, and a new constitution.
The Arab plan also suggests that a new Palestinian government would offer Arafat a mainly ceremonial role.
Already, Powell has identified two Palestinian ministers "who seem to be coming to the fore and acting with some authority, and we are prepared to work with them, as are the Israelis."
Speaking on National Public Radio, Powell mentioned by title only Finance Minister Salam Fayad and Interior Minister Abdelrazek al-Yahia.
"Those are two that perhaps might start to fill the role that I think is badly needed to be filled," Powell said.
Egypt's foreign minister has said that compromises are not only to be on the Palestinian side. He said that Israel must depart occupied lands and stop arresting Palestinian police in order to get the peace process moving.
Maher said that training Palestinian police who are under Israeli occupation is impossible since they can't be effective without authority. The Egyptian plan calls for sending Egyptian authorities into the West Bank towns as Israel withdraws from them to help with their security.
Israel has seized control of all Palestinian towns except Jericho to try to halt terror attacks. Maher said the recurrence of attacks this week stemmed from Palestinians' despair over Israel's occupation and showed "violence will not control violence."
Wednesday's tandem homicide bombings in which five people in Tel Aviv died demonstrate that Israel's occupation has not improved security, he added.
The Arab leaders are also interested in making sure that the United States pushes Israel to comply with any new security agreements.
Bush has asked the Israelis to take a number of steps, such as releasing money owed to the Palestinians, easing travel restrictions and stopping settlements in Palestinian areas, but Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government so far has ignored Bush's calls.
Fox News' Jim Angle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.