Secretary of State Colin L. Powell worked the phones Saturday in an attempt at forging an international effort to end the wave of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
In order to increase the pressure on Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to take "concrete steps" aimed at halting the bloodshed, Powell also canceled a trip to Costa Rica. He had been scheduled to visit the Central American nation for a summit of the Organization of American States--a follow-up to the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April--to work on the idea of a hemispheric alliance.
The United States is pressing Arafat specifically to arrest Islamic extremists suspected of involvement in the bombings but also to lower the level of incitement in both Palestinian rhetoric and the media, notably local television.
"While he is not capable of stopping everything they do, Arafat can tell his people to try to round them up, to arrest them," said a senior administration official who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the diplomatic effort.
The U.S. goal is to prevent further violence and to restore security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians so that another bombing doesn't ratchet hostilities even further upward. The radical groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad both have claimed that they have more bombers on the way, the U.S. official warned.
Powell spoke Saturday with both Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But to broaden the U.S. effort, the secretary also talked to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Javier Solana, the European Union's chief of foreign and security affairs.
"There's almost universal consensus that this has gone too far and now is the time for Arafat to act. This heinous crime was just too much," the official added.
The U.S. goal Saturday was to get the international community to persuade Arafat to do whatever has to be done to regain control of the situation.
"The message is that unless Arafat and the Palestinian Authority take immediate actions on the ground, the situation is only going to get much worse. It's time for serious and concrete action to stop terrorist violence and bring the situation under control," the administration official said.
"Powell is urging all of them to use their influence to get the Palestinian leadership to support us in what we're trying to do so that this is an international effort."
From the presidential retreat at Camp David, President Bush spoke several times Saturday with Powell as well as with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George J. Tenet. Bush has been following the secretary's efforts closely, the administration official noted, but the president has not made any calls himself, in stark contrast to the days of President Clinton's round-the-clock telephone diplomacy.
Despite the volatility of the situation, the Bush team was described as "hopeful. We don't see any alternatives if we're going to keep them from getting much worse," the senior official said.
William Burns, the assistant secretary of State for Near East affairs, who has been mediating between Israel and the Palestinians, delayed his return to the United States after Friday's bombing in Tel Aviv, U.S. officials said. He was in Jordan on Saturday waiting for instructions from Washington about a new round of talks.