- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2003

President Bush, who has long dismissed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as an obstacle to peace in the Middle East, yesterday praised Mr. Arafat's successor as "a man I can work with."
Mr. Bush made the remarks just hours after authorizing the formal release of a U.S.-backed "road map" for peace to the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas. A copy was not provided to Mr. Arafat.
"I believe now that we have a interlocutor from the Palestinian Authority that has spoken clearly about the need to fight terror, that we have a good opportunity to advance the peace process," Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office. "And I will seize the opportunity."
He added: "I look forward to working with him, and will work with him, for the sake of peace, and for the sake of security."
Mr. Bush had delayed release of the peace plan until the new prime minister and his Cabinet were formally installed to govern the Palestinian territories. It was the culmination of a two-year effort to marginalize Mr. Arafat, with whom the president has steadfastly refused to meet.
Mr. Bush heaped praise on Mr. Abbas for condemning Tuesday's suicide bombing that killed two other persons and injured 55 at a nightclub near the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Despite the release of the peace plan which was drafted by the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union Mr. Bush placed the onus for peace chiefly on the Palestinians and Israelis.
"Implementing the road map will depend upon the good-faith efforts and contributions of both sides," he said in a written statement. "The pace of progress will depend strictly on the performance of the parties."
Still, Mr. Bush pledged to commit the full resources of the United States to enacting the peace plan. He began by dispatching Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to the Middle East.
"The United States will do all it can to seize this opportunity," he said. "To that end, I have asked Secretary Powell to travel to the region to begin working with the parties so that we can take advantage of this moment."
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters: "The United States, the president and the secretary of state will devote considerable time and energy to helping the parties to achieve peace."
The administration also expects other nations in the Middle East to do their share.
"In order for peace to occur, all parties must assume their responsibilities," Mr. Bush said. "That includes the Arab nations, which surround Israel and the potential Palestinian state.
"They must cut off funding to terrorists. They must create the conditions necessary for peace.
"Israel is going to have to make some sacrifices in order to move the peace process forward," he added. "But no sacrifice should be made that will allow and encourage terror to continue and reign."
Mr. Bush made clear he was not discouraged by previous attempts to broker a Mideast peace that ended in failure. Former President Bill Clinton spent the closing weeks of his administration trying to broker a deal, only to watch the peace process disintegrate into the worst violence in years.
"Well, just because history has proven to be unsuccessful doesn't mean that we're not going to try," Mr. Bush said. "I'm an optimist."
Mr. Fleischer said: "What the president is hopeful is, there has been such a changed environment because of the last several years, a new, more optimistic, more hopeful environment can take hold."

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