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US Ready to Help New Palestinian Government

President Bush says he is heartened by the strong turnout in Sunday's Palestinian election and looks forward to working with the winners. Mr. Bush is promising more help to advance the cause of Middle East peace.

The president says the Palestinian election was an historic event, not just for the Palestinian people, but for the entire Middle East.

His comments came in a written statement issued after polls closed but before an official winner was declared. He noted independent observers found the balloting to be largely free and fair. And he said the election proves once again that, given a choice, all people seek to live in liberty and choose their own government.

Mr. Bush offered continued support for the reform process. He said other countries have a role to play as well, calling once again on Israel to improve conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, and move ahead with its disengagement plan.

Earlier, Secretary of State Colin Powell told ABC television's This Week program the United States stands ready to help the Palestinians by increasing development aid and supporting political reform efforts.

“We can help the new Palestinian president, and the new leaders of the Palestinian Authority reform their government to make it more efficient and less corrupt,” he said.

Also sounding a hopeful note was Dennis Ross - one of America's best known Mideast peace negotiators. In an interview that aired just hours before polls closed in the Palestinian election, he said there is a window of opportunity following the death of Yasser Arafat.

“One of the most striking things that people have not noted enough is that he died and the Palestinian public became optimistic. That is an amazing reality to take note of,” he said.

Dennis Ross told the CBS program Face the Nation the Palestinians want change and an end to chaos. I believe there is a chance, first, to stop the daily war between Israelis and Palestinians, manage the withdrawal of the Israelis from Gaza and use that as a basis to get back to the permanent status issues so that you can get back to peacemaking. There is an opportunity here, but it won't last long,” he said.

As indications began to emerge of a decisive victory for former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, members of an election monitoring team from the U.S. Senate spoke to CNN's Late Edition program from Jerusalem. Senator Joseph Biden - the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee - said the new Palestinian president will have a tough job.

“He understands the genuine need for reform of his party, Fatah. He knows there is a genuine need for reform of what was the Palestinian Authority. He has to consolidate the security forces,” he said.

Senator Biden went on to indicate that he believes Mahmoud Abbas is up to the task. He said he is very impressed by what he has seen so far, but added America is watching closely to see if the new Palestinian leader can actually produce results.