- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

William Burns, the top U.S. Middle East envoy, arrived in the region yesterday to jump-start the Bush administration’s most serious effort yet to revitalize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Mr. Burns’ visit is part of a renewed diplomatic effort by several countries to seize the opportunity for dialogue between the two sides created by this month’s Palestinian elections and the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

“When we see the opportunity there, when we see the change in the situation, we want to get out there and see what we can do to support that change and support progress,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

“So it’s a good moment to be there, and Burns is certainly one of our people who can work with both of the parties in a lot of detail to try to achieve progress,” Mr. Boucher said.

Before flying to Cairo, Mr. Burns took part in a meeting in Frankfurt, Germany, on Monday of the so-called Quartet — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — to discuss ways of reviving its “road map” for peace.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is scheduled to hold talks in Washington today with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, just before her anticipated Senate confirmation as secretary of state.

Mr. Burns, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, is expected to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today. During his trip, he also will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Arafat’s successor.

“We have been very encouraged by the recent steps taken by President Abbas toward the restoration of law and order for Palestinians and by the progress made toward the cease-fire,” Mr. Burns told reporters in Cairo.

“All of us have been encouraged by what the Israelis have said recently — in other words, their willingness to meet quiet with quiet,” he said. “Certainly, the United States wants to play a role in helping the two parties to make progress with regard to security.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit welcomed a “clear American desire to make things move and push them forward.”

“The aims of the peace process should be defined and a timetable fixed,” he said. “The whole issue will be discussed with the Americans and Israelis, as well as with the Quartet, so that the current climate favoring a resumption of the peace process reaches its final objective.”

Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs agreed yesterday to the deployment of more Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip to prevent militant attacks, Palestinian officials said. The agreement allows the Palestinians to reinforce their security in northern Gaza and extend their control to the central and southern parts of the strip.

The road map envisions the creation of a Palestinian state, which President Bush first espoused in a speech at the United Nations in 2002.

Since his victory in the Jan. 9 elections, Mr. Abbas has achieved a tacit cease-fire with Hamas and other militant groups. At the same time, Palestinian officials accuse Israel of undermining his efforts by expanding West Bank settlements and resuming construction on one of the most controversial parts of a West Bank security barrier.

“The United States’ position has been very clear with regard to the separation barrier, particularly the course of the separation barrier, to the extent it infringes on the occupied territories, to the extent that it creates further complications for Palestinians who are trying to move from their homes to their places of work,” Mr. Burns said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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