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US Welcomes Palestinian Agreement - 2003-04-23

The United States is welcoming the agreement paving the way for a new Palestinian cabinet headed by reformist prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas. The State Department says approval of the government by Palestinian legislators, expected within a few days, will trigger release of the international "roadmap" to an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

U.S. officials say the cabinet deal should open the way to a shift of power away from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whose years of rule, they say, were marked by failure and tainted by connections with terrorism.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says upon confirmation of the Abbas government, the Bush administration will launch the "roadmap" and a stepped-up U.S. role in peace making. But he said the onus will be on the parties to carry out the terms of the plan, aimed at a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

Israel has already given the United States a list of reservations about the plan, drafts of which have been in wide circulation. But Mr. Boucher said the "roadmap," when released, will be unchanged from the final version approved in December by its sponsors the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

"The parties we know have had comments, and may have things to say about it. We've heard from them because they're generally familiar with it. And we would expect them to have comments upon its release and as we sit down and start discussing it," he said. "What we look forward to discussing with them is how to implement the "roadmap," how especially they can start getting together and carrying through on these steps and actually moving forward to achieve this vision where Israelis can live in peace, Palestinians can live in peace, people can have better lives."

The "roadmap" calls for a series of corresponding security and confidence-building steps by the two parties over three years including an end to anti-Israeli violence by Palestinians and a halt to Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza.

It provides for Palestinian statehood within provisional borders by the end of the first year of the process and ultimately full Palestinian statehood and Arab-wide recognition of Israel by the end of 2005.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is to go to the region shortly to confer with Mr. Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and others, including senior officials in Syria.