Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State, yesterday cut short a visit to the Caribbean to chair an emergency session of President Clinton's national security advisers on the crisis in Israel, convened before yesterday's bombing in Tel Aviv.
The latest attack, condemned by President Clinton as "a senseless act of violence against innocent people", has stunned and dismayed the Administration, leaving it few options to prevent the unravelling of a Middle East peace process in which Washington has invested so much time, diplomatic energy and prestige.
Speaking during a campaign trip to Michigan, Mr Clinton urged Israelis to "fight for peace", and reject the "division and conflict" which were the goals of extremists on all sides, Jewish and Arab alike. But those exhortations will be hard to translate into reality - as shown by the jeers that rained upon the head of Martin Indyk, the US Ambassador to Israel, as he visited the scene of the bombing yesterday.
In practice there seems little the US can do. According to a White House spokesman, the meeting of Mr Christopher, the Defence Secretary William Perry, the CIA director John Deutch, and Anthony Lake, Mr Clinton's national security adviser, would examine "ways of assisting the Israelis". Among those means, presumably, is the use of US intelligence to help track down members of Hamas and other splinter Palestinian terrorist groups.
Beyond that, Washington will lean on Arab states in the region to give neither succour nor shelter to the terrorists, who some experts believe may be based not in the PLO- administered Gaza strip or West Bank but outside Israel altogether, perhaps in Jordan or Lebanon - in the latter case with the tacit consent of Syria.
It was not immediately clear what impact the Tel Aviv bombing will have on the bilateral talks between Israel and Syria, taking place on an estate outside Washington. Even before the latest spate of attacks - four now in nine days - the mid- level discussions had been stalled, as Damascus appeared to be waiting for the outcome of Israel's elections on 29 May. The Administration fears the bombings could hand victory to the right-wing Likud party, opposed to a peace deal on terms thus far accepted by the Labour Prime Minister, Shimon Peres.