White House Won't Negotiate on Road Map

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The White House said Monday its road map for setting up a Palestinian state by the end of 2005 is not negotiable and that Israel must "play its part" to pave the way.

In a speech to a pro-Israel lobby group, Condoleezza Rice, who is President Bush's national security adviser, also called on all Arab governments to recognize Israel's right to exist and said democratic reforms within the Palestinian Authority were "extremely important."

The road map, prepared jointly with the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, is designed to reopen negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians once Mahmoud Abbas is confirmed as the Palestinian prime minister.

Rice's call for a quick start -- one that would prevent attempts by either side to revise the terms of the so-called road map -- follows complaints by European and Arab governments that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would try to arrange more favorable terms.

They registered their objections after President Bush had said "we will expect and welcome contributions from Israel and the Palestinians to this document."

But first Secretary of State Colin Powell, and now Rice, in responding to questions at the 44th annual policy meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, tried to discourage delay.

Rice, who had asked that her remarks to thousands of members of the pro-Israel lobby be off-the-record to the news media, said of Israel and the Palestinians: "We expect their comments; it is not a matter of renegotiation. It can be commented on by the parties."

Bush envisions two states, democratic Israel and democratic Palestine, living side by side in peace.

On the war with Iraq, Bush's assistant said the most effective way to deal with Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was to try to eliminate them before they could be used.

On the war itself, she said "we are confident of the outcome."

And on Iran, which Bush has included with Iraq and North Korea in an "axis of evil," Rice said the International Atomic Energy Agency "needs to do a more thorough investigation" of its nuclear weapons program.

On Sunday, Powell said Iran must stop its drive for weapons of mass destruction and Syria must end its support for terrorism.

In a strongly worded speech to the pro-Israel lobby, Powell bracketed Iran and Syria with Iraq as promoters of terrorism and suggested they faced grave consequences.

His tough words matched those last week of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and served to signal unity within the Bush administration on the anti-terror front.

Both Iran and Syria have shown no inclination to bend to the Bush administration's growing rhetorical campaign against them.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said Sunday that "Syria has a national interest in the expulsion of the invaders from Iraq."

Rumsfeld on Friday accused Syria of supplying military technology to Iraq, a charge Syria denied. He also said the United States would hold Iran responsible for the entrance of Iran-sponsored forces into Iraq.

Carrying the threat a step forward, Powell on Sunday demanded that Iran "stop its support for terrorism against Israel" and said Tehran also "must stop its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and the ability to produce them."

Turning to the regime in Damascus, Powell said "Syria now faces a critical choice" of whether to "continue its direct support for terrorism in the dying days" of President Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq.

"Syria bears responsibility for its choices and consequences," Powell said sternly at the 44th annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

And Powell said, to wide applause from the heavily Jewish audience, "we will keep his weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East."

Stepping into a growing debate, Powell, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, endorsed the Bush administration's current war plan, which has encountered some criticism as the drive against Saddam has slowed.

"I have total confidence in the plan and total confidence in General (Tommy) Franks and those carrying out the plan," he said.

Powell renewed the Bush administration's support for establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of 2005, and said the drive would be stepped up once Mahmoud Abbas was confirmed as prime minister.

The longtime lieutenant of Yasser Arafat has at times spoken in support of all measures against Israel and at other times appeared critical of attacks on civilians.

On Sunday, Powell urged Israel to make peace with the Palestinian Authority, saying "Israel's security requires peace with its neighbors." He also renewed President Bush's call for a halt to Jewish home-building on the West Bank and Gaza, which drew a mixed response of mild applause and a few boos.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom followed Powell's speech with his own condemnation of Iran as a sponsor of terrorism. He said Iran was behind the bloody attacks in 1992 on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and in 1994 on a Jewish center in capital of Argentina.

"We will work closely with the United States to oppose terror," the minister said.

On the conflict with the Palestinians, Shalom was cautious. "We need a true Palestinian partner, one who will stop the violence once and for all," he said.