WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush says recognition of Israel's right to exist is ``the first and most important qualification'' of any Middle East peace accord.
He urged Arab leaders to embed recognition in their national policies.
As U.S. mediator Anthony Zinni headed to the area Wednesday to try to stop fighting between Israel and the Palestinians, Bush praised a proposal by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that offered Israel diplomatic recognition, security and trade in exchange for all the land the Arabs lost in the 1967 Middle East war.
``That's a very important declaration,'' Bush said at a White House news conference. ``There is nothing more deep than recognizing Israel's right to exist. Its the most deep thought of all.''
And ``policies ought to follow along those lines,'' Bush said, even as he criticized the forceful Israeli reaction to terror attacks.
While Israel has a right to defend itself, ``the recent actions are not helpful,'' he said, referring to attacks in Palestinian areas in which civilians have been killed.
Deploring the violence that Zinni will try to tamp down, Bush said, ``It breaks my heart and the hearts of a lot of people around the world to see young children lose their lives through violence.''
Upbeat on the retired Marine general's mission, Bush said Israel and the Palestinians already have endorsed peacemaking steps contained in a plan devised by CIA Director George Tenet.
But first there must be a truce. He said of Zinni, ``He's got a lot of work to do, but if I didn't think he could make progress I wouldn't ask him to go.''
Secretary of State Colin Powell called in Zinni to map out the mediator's mission before Zinni flew to the region. Powell also telephoned Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, who has been the target of severe U.S. criticism for months as not curbing Palestinian attacks.
Zinni's directions, a senior official said, are to rebuild a shattered cease-fire and get Israel and the Palestinians started on peace steps outlined by Tenet.
The Bush administration notified Israel and the Palestinians Wednesday that Zinni would keep working for a truce and peace steps only so long as he is making progress.
A White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, called on the Palestinian Authority ``to do everything it can'' to stop attacks on Israel and chided Israel for attacks on the West Bank and in Gaza that killed and injured civilians.
If Zinni can rebuild a cease-fire amid unprecedented bloodletting, he intends to push such peacemaking gestures as Israeli troop pullbacks and Palestinian detention of terrorist suspects.
``No one should act in ways that make this objective harder to achieve. This is particularly important as the parties prepare for General Zinni's return to the region,'' McClellan said.
How long Zinni stays in the region depends on whether he makes headway, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. ``He will stay there as long as he makes progress,'' Boucher said.
``Zinni is not planning on failing,'' he added.