While President Bush has called for new leadership in the Palestinian Authority, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East says it will continue to support President Yasser Arafat.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher says Egypt "strongly supports the democratically-elected Palestinian leadership and refuses any attempt to go around it."
The foreign minister made his comments following a meeting Sunday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian leader Arafat and a Senate Intelligence Committee delegation headed by Florida Democrat Senator Bob Graham.
Mr. Erekat was in Cairo delivering a letter from Mr. Arafat in which the Palestinian president discussed his efforts to reform the Palestinian government. Mr. Erekat said Egypt and the Palestinians agreed on what was described as a "new vision to salvage the peace process based on an Israeli withdrawal from the pre-1967 borders within an agreed timetable."
In Mr. Maher's words, Egypt has told all parties that "we support the will of the Palestinian people as it was expressed in the 1996 elections in which Mr. Arafat was freely and democratically elected."
On Monday, President Bush called on Palestinians to elect new leadership as one of the conditions for U.S. support for a Palestinian state.
Mr. Arafat has indicated he plans to run for re-election when new elections are held early next year.
Senator Graham said President Mubarak was seeking "further explanations and clarifications" of President Bush's ideas for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Mr. Graham said he also discussed efforts to battle terrorism, saying, in his words, "Egypt has played a key role in the international war against terrorism for much longer than the U.S. or most other nations and therefore there is much to be learned from Egypt's experience."