MADRID – Secretary of State Colin Powell warned Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Thursday against letting violence "immediately contaminate the road map" toward peace that President Bush has offered.
Opening a three-day trip built around Middle East peace efforts, Powell said much work remains before Bush's goal of a Palestinian state by 2005 can be met. That work includes ending suicide bomb attacks and harsh defensive actions by Israel, he said.
"We have got to get beyond this period of suicide bombings and retaliatory actions, or other defensive actions that are taken," Powell said. "We can't let these sorts of incidents immediately contaminate the road map, or contaminate the process that we are now involved in."
A road map, or blueprint, for negotiations between the two sides was announced on Wednesday. It calls for establishment of a Palestinian state within three years, an end to violence by both the Palestinians and Israel, an immediate cease-fire and the dismantling of some Israeli settlements -- along with a freeze on new construction.
"There is a significant difference now," Powell told Spanish Television TVE. "And that is that the Palestinian Authority has begun to transform itself."
The new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, "has independent authority, not just authority from Arafat," he said. And while Abbas immediately condemned violence and said "we must end the terror," Arafat is a failed leader, Powell said.
Still, Powell said there were groups in the Palestinian Authority who do not want to see progress.
The proposal's announcement was followed closely by a bomb attack in Tel Aviv that killed three, and an Israeli crackdown on a Hamas stronghold in which 12 Palestinians died.
Powell urged Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, to work with the United States and other international partners "to find the peaceful way forward, even when faced with these kinds of tragic scenes that we have seen in recent days."
"This is the time to redouble our efforts, and not say 'Let's not do anything,"' Powell said. "We have the tools we need to get started and we now have the international political will to get started."
Powell spoke after meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio in Madrid -- the place where the "road map" first began taking shape a year ago between the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.
Later Thursday, Powell was to have dinner with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. He then heads to Albania on Friday and then to Syria, where he will meet with the foreign minister and President Bashar Assad. Those talks are a prelude to another Mideast journey by Powell next week for talks with Abbas and Sharon.
In Syria, Powell said he intends to take up U.S. allegations that Syria supports terrorism, the "changed strategic situation" in the Middle East now that Saddam Hussein is gone from power, and the movement of wanted Iraqi leaders across the border into Syria after war was under way in Iraq.
The fact that Syria now has a different Iraq as a neighbor, plus the road map and the new Palestinian leadership, "is a new strategic dynamic that they should consider," Powell said. He said he expects his sessions in Syria to be "rather full and candid," but he is not seeking any specific outcome.
"It's an opportunity to review where we are," Powell said.
Thursday's meetings came a day after Bush urged Israelis and Palestinians to immediately end the violence and "return to a path of peace." While Powell worked, Bush spoke by phone with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia from Air Force One, to talk about the road map and "the importance of working with the parties for peace in the region," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Powell and Palacio discussed Spain's role in rebuilding Iraq and setting up peacekeeping functions there, as well as helping move the Middle East peace process along.
"There is now a new dynamic in that part of the world," Powell said. "And we will be working very closely with Spain as we pursue these two new dynamics."
Palacio said they also talked about NATO expansion, building up democracy in Equatorial Guinea and "the Hispanic factor" -- the rise of Hispanic leaders and culture within the United States. "This is something that interests Spain a great deal," she said.
Also, Powell was questioned about the death of Spanish cameraman Jose Couso, who was killed last month when U.S. soldiers shelled a Baghdad hotel that was a media operation base. Powell called the shell attack "one of those tragic incidents of battle" and said U.S. authorities are still investigating it.
"We regret that it happened," Powell said.