Bush officials say it's up to Israeli voters now
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration Sunday reiterated it was taking a hands-off approach to Tuesday's election in Israel, with Secretary of State Colin Powell saying the question of who runs that country rests with the voters there.
"We will not make a judgment," Powell told ABC's "This Week."
"We believe it's up to the Israeli people to decide who their prime minister will be, and, as you've noticed, so far in the Bush administration we have elected not to show a preference," Powell said.
Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration was prepared to work with either Ehud Barak, the incumbent prime minister, or Ariel Sharon, the Likud challenger, on moving the Middle East peace process forward.
"This administration has to be ready to work with the Israeli prime minister, whether it is Mr. Barak or Mr. Sharon," Rice said on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."
"The most important step is for all to act with a sense of calm, a sense of statesmanship," Rice said. "Violence will achieve nothing and if all parties are committed to the creation of a calm environment in which we can move, that will be very good and that will be our message to all the responsible parties in the region."
Powell said the administration will be "as active as is appropriate" to advance the peace process, and said both sides must take a stand against violence.
Polls show Sharon, viewed as more of a hard-liner in dealings with the Palestinians, leading Barak by a wide margin.
Former President Clinton has endorsed Barak's bid for re-election.
On another Israeli matter, Powell said there are no immediate plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As a candidate, Bush said he would move the embassy, a delicate matter because of Palestinian claims to parts of Jerusalem.
"As soon as I take office, I will begin the process of moving the U.S. ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital," Bush said in May.
Powell said the matter was under review, but at this "time of tension" there are no plans to act on it.
"We're always examining it, but there is no move yet to move the embassy, although that remains the goal of the United States and it remains a commitment made by President Bush."
Barak appeals to Israeli Arabs
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