White House: Bush Will Try to Revive Road Map Peace Initiative

WASHINGTON - The White House promised a new push in President George W. Bush's second term to revive a stalled Middle East peace plan on Thursday.

"We have a new opportunity before us to move forward on the 'road map' and get to the two-state vision that the president outlined," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "We will remain actively engaged working with the parties to accomplish that goal."

McClellan offered few specifics, singling out as a historic opportunity Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to evacuate troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank.

Sharon called Bush to congratulate him on his re-election and on the advances made by the Republican Party in the House of Representatives and Senate. Sharon said that Bush's victory is a victory of ideology and belief. Bush thanked Sharon and told him that he values Sharon?s leadership, and that the results of the U.S. elections prove that people value strong leadership.

The White House declined to comment on the health of Arafat. "I think right now it's important that he gets the medical care that he needs. And we're continuing to monitor his situation. That's where it is. I don't think it's appropriate togo beyond that," McClellan said.

Bush has said he supports a Palestinian state alongside Israel and an international peace plan known as the "road map," which imposes obligations on both sides.

But for most of the two years since he began to ostracize Arafat, his administration has made only sporadic attempts to bring Israelis and Palestinians together.

The White House said Bush spoke briefly to Sharon, who called to congratulate him on his election victory.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged European nations to put their differences with the United States over Iraq behind them and work with Bush to pursue Middle East peace.

"The need to revitalize the Middle East peace process is the single most pressing political challenge in our world today," Blair said