Washington -- Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns told Arab journalists March 6 that the United States will engage -- along with Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, the other members of the so-called "Quartet" -- in a vigorous effort to revive political negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.
In a digital video exchange with correspondents in London and Washington, Burns noted, "The president has made very clear that, in his view, inaction on the Palestine-Israeli issue is just as dangerous as inaction on other challenges in the region. Last June, he laid out a simple but profoundly important vision -- the emergence of an independent, sovereign, democratic Palestine, living in peace and security, at dignity, alongside the state of Israel."
"That vision does not operationalize itself," Burns said, noting that the United States and its Quartet partners are working to develop a practical plan of action, the so-called "roadmap."
"The president again in his speech last week reinforced his personal commitment to the roadmap effort. It is a basis on which to move back to a political process between Palestinians and Israelis. This is of profound importance, not just to those two peoples and their future but also to the region as a whole. That is something we understand very clearly," he stressed.
"Both the president and Secretary Powell have emphasized their personal determination to take that vision, take that roadmap, and do everything we can to make it a reality. That will involve some very difficult obligations on both parties, as well as the United States, as well as our friends in the region," he continued.
Burns then reviewed some of the obligations. On the Palestinian side, he underscored the need to build strong political institutions -- an effort in the self-interest of Palestinians. Secondly, he said Palestinians must to move against violence and terror.
"Israel has obligations, to," he said. "They include acting decisively to ease the daily humiliations of Palestinians living under occupation, helping to rebuild a sense of hope for an early negotiated end to the occupation which began in 1967, and it also includes the cessation of settlement activity, as the president and Secretary Powell have made clear. Those are not easy things to do either, but these are extremely important if that roadmap is to become a real diplomatic effort rather than just seven pages of paper."
Asked why the roadmap had not been made public, Burns said he recognized the deep skepticism of people in the region towards both the roadmap and American intentions, but he was not able to provide a date.
"I know that action speaks a lot louder than words," he said. "I believe you will see a serious diplomatic effort to use the roadmap as a basis to re-ignite a political process and move away from the terror and violence."
"I cannot give you a precise time for the formal publication and release of the roadmap. It's something we're consulting quite actively on with our Quartet partners. But the president and the secretary have made quite clear their sense of urgency that they have about this issue," Burns said.
"As you know better than I do," he told the Arab journalists, "the region is in a very complex state and a very combustible state in many ways. Addressing the challenges of the region will require movement on a number of fronts: Iraq, and ensuring its disarmament consistent with Security Council resolutions... .And support of the efforts and leaderships in the region themselves to open up economically and politically."
Given the magnitude of the challenges and stakes for people in the region, Burns emphasized the mutual interest of all parties to consult closely and to try to pursue policies that reflect the strongest possible consensus, acknowledging the difficult decisions inherent in the process.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)