"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
White House Supports Powell Meeting with Peace Plan Authors
But stresses its commitment to Middle East road map
By Wendy S. Ross
Washington File White House Correspondent
Washington -- The White House said December 3 that Secretary of State Colin Powell decides for himself whom he will meet with, and the Bush administration supports those decisions.
"[T]he decisions on whom Secretary Powell meets with are made by the secretary, and we support his decisions on whom he meets with," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters when asked about reports that Powell plans to meet December 5 in Washington with former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, two of the architects of the so-called "Geneva initiative," a private-citizen, nongovernmental Israeli-Palestinian peace plan launched in Switzerland December 1. Both men are currently in Washington.
Powell, who is on a visit to three nations in North Africa, told a news conference December 3 in Casablanca, that "the more we talk about peace, the better. I welcome ideas from whatever source."
But Powell made clear that the road map, the U.S. backed plan to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, is still very much alive. It "is definitely not dead -- it's a living document," he said.
"Our commitment remains to the road map. It's the only real plan out that's been adopted by [the] parties," he added.
Powell "meets with a lot of people on a lot issues, but I can assure you that this administration and the secretary of state remain firmly committed to the vision the president outlined [on June 24, 2002], and the road map is the best way forward toward achieving that vision," the White House press secretary told reporters.
"[W]e have a vision that the president put forward on June 24th, that outlines a two-state vision of a Palestinian state and an Israeli state living side by side in peace and security," McClellan said.
"[T]hat's what we remain committed to. That's why Assistant Secretary of State [William] Burns was in the region ... over the last few days, visiting with the parties to get them focused on what is outlined in the road map. Because what ultimately has to happen is for the government of Israeli and the new Palestinian cabinet to come to an agreement in discussions on moving forward," McClellan said.
Asked if he sees any merit in the informal plan put forward by Beilin and Rabbo, McClellan said "the vision the president outlined is the best way forward, and that the road map is the way to realize that vision," but "there are, obviously, a lot of different private entities or private efforts that people have from time to time on a variety of issues, and those can be useful at times."
"But make no mistake about it, we remain focused, because that is the best way forward. And we are strongly working -- strongly committed -- to continuing to work toward the president's vision, based on the road map that was outlined," McClellan said.
"What needs to happen" to get the road map moving forward, he said, "is that the new Palestinian cabinet needs to focus on cracking down on terrorism. There are responsibilities that all parties have, but the foundation for moving forward is cracking down on terrorism and cracking down on the violence in the region."
Asked whether anybody from the White House or the National Security Council, would take part in the Powell meeting, McClellan responded that "there's obviously always an interagency involvement on issues of this nature."
At the State Department December 3, deputy spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters "it is the administration's policy that the way forward for peace between Arabs and Israelis is based on the president's vision that he enunciated publicly in June of 2002, and that the road map is the way to get there.
"That is what the governments and the parties to the conflict have signed up to, that is what the international community is supporting, and that is what this government is committed to realizing. That's number one.
"Number two, as the secretary has made clear, there are lots of ideas out there. It's a good thing that people who care about this issue are talking about it and debating it and coming up with ideas, and it's an appropriate thing for us to meet with them.
"One does not come at the expense of the other. They are compatible.... [I]f people want to meet with us to share their ideas, we welcome that. And it's in that context that we also said yesterday -- the secretary said yesterday that he will be meeting with those people who have been discussing different ideas. He will be meeting with them to hear their points of view."
Asked to comment on statements by the Israeli government that such a meeting would be a mistake, Ereli would only say that he had expressed the view of the Bush administration. "I will restrict my comments to what the position of the U.S. government is, and let other governments characterize their positions." he said.
Asked if Powell will meet with the two architects of another private-citizen peace plan, Sari Nusseibeh and Ami Ayalon, when they come to Washington December 12th, Ereli said: "I know there was thought being given to, again, seeing, I think, the people involved with that plan. I don't know that it's been nailed down who's going to meet with them and when. But I can say that we were looking at getting together with them as well. "
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)