WASHINGTON – The Bush administration on Tuesday welcomed the approval of a new Palestinian leadership, saying it would spur a burst of U.S. peacemaking efforts in the Middle East.
Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) will go to the area to begin trying to advance Palestinian statehood once the newly confirmed cabinet begins its work, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Administration officials said confirmation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (search) and his Cabinet would trigger the announcement of a roadmap, or blueprint, for peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians.
"We plan to present the roadmap to both parties shortly after Abu Mazen is sworn into office, a step likely to occur tomorrow," a State Department official said.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "The president looks forward to working with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people as well as the Israeli government and the Israeli people to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East."
Fleischer and State Department officials said they did not know exactly when the roadmap would be released and under what circumstances. It calls for establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.
Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the administration would work hard to reopen negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. However, he ruled out meeting with Abbas on a trip to the region that Powell is taking this week.
"He has some work to do and I don't want to burden him on Day One," Powell said.
Declaring he hoped Abbas would speak out immediately about terrorism, Powell said progress toward peace "is going to require acceptance of obligations, performance, by both sides."
Boucher said Powell would leave on Thursday and go to Spain, Albania, Syria and Lebanon and return to the region on a second trip.
After a few days' respite in Washington, Powell is expected to go to Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Russia.
It was a year ago in Madrid that the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, acting as a self-described quartet, decided to use the roadmap to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the peace table with the aim of Palestinian statehood and rolling back Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
In Tirana, the capital of Albania, Powell is due to oversee signing by Albania, Croatia and Macedonia of a regional cooperation agreement called the Adriatic Charter Partnership. It calls for cooperative reform efforts by each in their quest for eventual membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In Syria, Powell is expected to hold tough talks with President Bashar Assad on U.S. allegations that Syria permitted fighters to cross the border into Iraq during the Iraq war, did not stop Iraqi officials from seeking refuge in Syria as Saddam Hussein's government crumbled and supports terrorism.
Syria is expected to be named a sponsor of terrorism again in the annual terrorism report the State Department is issuing on Wednesday.
Referring to the fall of Saddam and U.S. hopes for democracy in Iraq, Powell told the committee: "I hope President Assad and his colleagues look at what is happening in the region and factor that in."
"They have a different neighbor," Powell said.
At the same time, he sought to discourage Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., from pressing ahead with legislation that would threaten Syria with sanctions. He said "it would not help" while the Bush administration was using diplomacy in Syria.
In Lebanon, Powell is expected to focus on activities by the militant group Hezbollah, which has fought a cross-border conflict with Israel.
The Palestinian parliament confirmed Abbas, known also as Abu Mazen, and approved his Cabinet after a bitter internal fight. Fifty-one of the 85 legislators supported Abbas. Eighteen opposed Abbas' proposed Cabinet, with three lawmakers abstaining.
A senior State Department official, welcoming the confirmation, said the department had worked with the Palestinian community on the emergence of the new leadership.