- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

President Bush yesterday vowed to withhold a detailed Mideast peace plan that endorses statehood for Palestine until its residents confirm a new prime minister who would dilute the power of leader Yasser Arafat.
"To be a credible and responsible partner, the new Palestinian prime minister must hold a position of real authority," Mr. Bush said in the Rose Garden, where he was joined by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
"We expect that such a Palestinian prime minister will be confirmed soon," he added. "Immediately upon confirmation, the road map for peace will be given to the Palestinians and the Israelis."
Under intense pressure from the United States and Israel, Mr. Arafat last month grudgingly agreed to name longtime aide Mahmoud Abbas to the position of prime minister a job Mr. Abbas has not yet accepted. Mr. Arafat insisted on retaining control of Palestinian security forces and the final word on peace talks.
Eager to marginalize Mr. Arafat, Mr. Bush is now linking his political demise to the release of the peace plan, which was drafted months ago by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. Known as the "quartet," these powers advocate the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.
Mr. Bush made clear that such a move is contingent upon an end to Palestinian terrorism.
"A Palestinian state must be a reformed and peaceful and democratic state that abandons forever the use of terror," he said.
The president also placed demands on Israel, insisting that it stop building Jewish settlements in Palestinian-controlled lands.
"As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end," he said. "The government of Israel, as the terror threat is removed and security improves, must take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable and credible Palestinian state."
Shortly after Mr. Bush spoke, British Prime Minister Tony Blair telephoned Mr. Abbas. He also spoke with Mr. Arafat, a leader whom Mr. Bush has refused to meet since taking office over two years ago.
"They indicated to me that they were hopeful that he might be able to take office as soon as early next week," Mr. Blair told reporters at No. 10 Downing St. in London.
The unscheduled remarks by Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair came just hours after the White House announced the two leaders would travel to the Azores tomorrow for a hastily arranged summit with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, sponsor of a U.N. resolution against Iraq. Also attending will be Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso.
Raanan Gissin, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said he was "guardedly optimistic" about the ascension of Mr. Abbas.
"He's a far cry from Chairman Arafat," Mr. Gissin told Fox News Channel.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice made clear that she does not want Mr. Abbas to be a puppet for Arafat.
"We assume that the Palestinians themselves want a prime minister who has real authority," she told reporters.
Mr. Bush discussed the road map during phone calls yesterday to the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Previously, some Arab and European nations criticized the president for withholding the road map until the conclusion of Israeli elections and the formation of a new government by Mr. Sharon.

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