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US Urges Palestinians to End Feuding and Form New Government - 2003-04-21

The United States is pressing Palestinian leaders to end internal bickering and approve a new government under prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. U.S. officials say once Palestinian legislators approve the cabinet, the Bush administration will launch the long-awaited "roadmap" for Middle East peace.

The United States is making clear its support for the reform-minded Mr. Abbas, and also its growing frustration over resistance by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to the prime minister-designate's key cabinet choices.

Mr. Abbas faces a Wednesday deadline for forming a cabinet to be approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says a government headed by Mr. Abbas, committed to serious efforts at reform and security, is deeply in the interests of the Palestinian people.

"We're hopeful that Abu Mazen will choose, and then the Palestinian Legislative Council would confirm, a cabinet that's capable of taking the steps on Palestinian reform, and taking clear and sustained action against violence and terrorist attacks that are necessary," he said. "The Palestinian people deserve serious leaders ready to work toward the vision of two independent states, an independent Palestine living side-by-side with Israel. That's the opportunity now. We would hope they would not miss it."

A senior U.S. official said Mr. Abbas appears to have formed the cabinet he wants and that Mr. Arafat "should stop blocking it."

Spokesman Boucher said the United States had conveyed its views on the cabinet stalemate directly to senior Palestinian officials and through officials of other governments who have had discussions with them in recent days.

He said the issue dominated telephone talks Secretary of State Colin Powell had Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

The Bush administration has said that upon approval of a new government headed by Mr. Abbas, it will release the "roadmap" for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord completed last December by the United States and its partners in the diplomatic "quartet" on the Middle East, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

The "roadmap" calls for security and other steps by the two parties leading to full Palestinian statehood and Arab-wide recognition of Israel by the end of 2005.

Secretary Powell has said he intends to visit to region soon on a mission that would signal renewed U.S. involvement in the peace process following the war in Iraq.