by Ravi Nessman
Associated Press Writer
After weeks of hesitation, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the United States on Friday that he accepts a U.S.-backed peace plan that would create a Palestinian state within three years. Sharon said he will present the plan to his Cabinet for approval as early as Sunday.
Sharon's statement came just hours after the Bush administration pledged to "fully and seriously" address Israel's concerns about the plan - though Secretary of State Colin Powell said Washington did not intend to change the road map.
The assurances from Bush aimed to spur momentum over the plan, which has stalled over the issue of how to stop violence. Israel wants the Palestinians to rein in militants before Israel moves on its obligations under the plan - though the road map calls for the steps to be taken in parallel.
With the U.S. statement, Sharon should be able to win a majority of support in his Cabinet, though hardline ministers and Jewish settler leaders strongly oppose the plan, said a Sharon adviser, Raanan Gissin.
The Israeli Cabinet will discuss the peace plan on Sunday or Monday, Gissin said.
Just hours after the White House assurance, Sharon's office said the prime minister "informed the United States that the state of Israel is prepared to accept the steps prescribed in the road map."
President Bush called Sharon's announcement "progress" and said he was considering meeting the Israeli prime minister and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas.