US Ambassador Dan Kurtzer met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday to formally present him with a long-awaited internationally backed Mideast peace plan.
A convoy of diplomatic vehicles was seen pulling up to Sharon's house in Jerusalem yesterday afternoon and a diplomatic source confirmed that Kurtzer had arrived.
Terje Larsen, the UN envoy to the Middle East, told reporters in the West Bank town of Ramallah that the internationally backed "road map" to peace would be presented to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas at 5pm (9pm Taiwan time) yesterday.
Abbas was sworn in to his post earlier yesterday.
The plan was drafted by the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators: the US, EU, UN and Russia.
The plan calls for an immediate cease-fire, a crackdown on Palestinian militias, an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian towns and the dismantling of Jewish settlements erected since 2001. A Palestinian state with provisional borders could be established by year's end and full statehood within three years, according to the timetable.
The release of the road map was undeterred by a Tel Aviv suicide bombing that killed at least three people and left 49 wounded and marked US President George W. Bush's most intense attempt at peacemaking since he took office more than two years ago.
Bush has pledged to put "the same amount of energy" into it as British Prime Minister Tony Blair has into the long-running Northern Ireland peace process.
"This is a priority for the president and he is committed to it," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
A senior Bush administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity said: "The hope is that this will lead to real progress and the road map will act as a guidepost for the parties to work together."
Fleischer said Bush wants to stick to the deadlines outlined in the road map.
"The president wants progress to move quickly," he said.
To stick to the road map, the parties will have to act quickly.
Under the document, by May the Palestinians must implement an immediate cessation of violence and the Israelis must take steps to ease restrictions on Palestinians.
Israel must freeze all settlement activity. The Palestinians must issue an unequivocal statement reiterating Israel's right to exist in peace and security. Israel must issue a similar statement affirming its commitment to a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.
Senior US officials believe Israel, without Iraq to worry about, has more room to take risks for peace and that the US has more credibility in pressing the Israelis to take risks.
Fleischer also announced yesterday that Bush will give a speech this evening from deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to say that major combat in Iraq has ended. But he said that Bush will neither formally declare victory nor declare the war to be over because pockets of resistance remain and some key missions are unfulfilled.
``He will address the nation just as he did at the beginning of the conflict,'' Fleischer said, adding that the White House has requested time from US TV networks to broadcast the speech.