WASHINGTON – The Bush administration on Wednesday urged an immediate crackdown by the Palestinian Authority (search) on extremist groups and called for the dismantling of their terrorist capabilities.
"There's funding, there's support, there's munitions, there's organization, and all that needs to be taken apart," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
U.S. officials expressed understanding of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search)'s decision to postpone pullbacks on the West Bank, but the overriding U.S. message was that the American plan for a Palestinian state remains on track.
Referring also to the bombing Tuesday of U.N. headquarters in Iraq, Boucher said "our reaction to the horrible events is that we need to move forward, we need to establish peace and security for people in Iraq, Palestinians, Israelis, others."
Bush's Mideast policy is based on the idea a democratic Palestinian state can be established in two years on land held by Israel and live in peace alongside Israel.
Secretary of State Colin Powell conveyed the U.S. call for a crackdown on terror operations in a telephone call to Mahmoud Abbas (search), the Palestinian prime minister, who has shied away from a confrontation with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other extremist groups with the argument that it could touch of a civil war.
"The message that we are conveying directly to the Palestinian side is that they need to move now on security," Boucher said.
Bush telephoned Sharon from his Texas vacation retreat, and Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security assistant, telephoned Israeli and Palestinian officials.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush expressed his condolences for the Tuesday bomb attack on a packed bus in Jerusalem. He said the president remains committed to achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
"We are continuing to work to keep the process moving forward," McClellan said.
Asked why Bush had not called Abbas, who he hosted last month at the White House, McClellan said, "Our message is very clear to the Palestinian Authority about what needs to be done. They know our views."
"There is more that they can do," Boucher said of Abbas and his security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, "and that's why we're calling on them to move now on security, especially to dismantle the capabilities of these organizations that carry out terrorist attacks."
Powell called foreign ministers Jack Straw of Britain, Dominique de Villepin of France, Joschka Fischer of Germany, Ana Palacio of Spain, Franco Frattini of Italy and Marwan Muasher of Jordan.
Powell also talked to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Javier Solana, a senior European Union diplomat who helped devise the U.S.-backed road map for peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians.
Powell is traveling to the United Nations on Thursday to meet with Annan, according to Boucher, who provided no details on the meeting.
Before the attack, Sharon was prepared to take several conciliatory steps. Among them was turning over security in four West Bank towns to the Palestinians.
He called that off after the bombing, and the State Department appeared to accept the decision.
Boucher said "we understand" Israel's quest for security. "We understand the first priority is security," the spokesman said.
However, he also urged Israel "to look at the way forward," thereby suggesting that after a pause Israel should get back on track in cooperating with Palestinian officials.
Israel Policy Forum, a private group, called on Bush to "stay the course and, indeed, to increase American efforts to end the violence, implement the road map and move the Israelis and Palestinians toward a two-state resolution of their conflict."
The statement also said the administration cannot simply call on the parties to act. "It must fortify its presence in the negotiating process and deepen its engagement in the implementation of the road map," the group said.