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Bush Congratulates Winner of Palestinian Election

President Bush has called Palestinian President-elect Mahmoud Abbas to congratulate him on his victory and invite him to Washington.

White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says during the 10-minute conversation, the president recalled their past meetings with great fondness, and offered an open invitation to the new Palestinian leader to visit Washington. Such an invitation was never extended by the Bush White House to Mr. Abbas's predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat.

The White House spokesman was asked if President Bush now sees an opportunity to get more involved in the Middle East peace process. He said once again that the United States stands ready to help the Palestinians as they implement the reforms necessary to create a viable, independent state.

He also stressed that the current focus is on a ministerial meeting planned for early March in London. That session will take up many of the issues facing the new Palestinian leadership, such as security and economic development.

Earlier, President Bush told reporters that all parties have a lot of work to do if the dream of a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel is to be realized.

He said Israel understood the importance of Sunday's Palestinian election, and must help the Palestinians develop democratic institutions and speed up reforms.

"Israel can play and must play an important part in the development of a Palestinian state," the president said. "At the same time, it is essential that the Palestinian leadership consolidates security forces so that they can fight off those few who still have the desire to destroy Israel as part of their philosophy and those few who fear there to be a free vote amongst the Palestinian people."

President Bush said the Palestinian election marks the beginning of an extraordinary year for those who believe in freedom and democracy. He noted that in a few weeks from now, voters will also go to the polls in Iraq.

"Who could have possibly envisioned an election in Iraq at this point in history? And yet we are going to have an election," he said.

The Iraqi elections are scheduled for January 30.