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Bush Optimistic Mideast Will Move Closer to Peace

President Bush says he believes the Middle East will move closer to peace now that Palestinian authorities have agreed on a new prime minister. Secretary of State Colin Powell will visit the region next week in hopes of ending the violence.

Secretary Powell is set to leave for the Middle East next Wednesday, a day after the Palestinian Legislative Council is expected to confirm Mahmoud Abbas as the first Palestinian prime minister.

With the appointment of Mr. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, President Bush said he will soon release a much anticipated Middle East peace plan drawn-up by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. "The selection of Abu Mazen as the Prime Minster is very positive, primarily because Abu Mazen has stated publicly that he is against terror and will use whatever powers he has to fight off the terrorist activities that have really prevented peace from moving forward," he said.

In an interview with the U.S. television network NBC, the president Bush said the new prime minister's appointment should move Palestinians closer to the economic and security reforms that Mr. Bush said are necessary for Middle East peace. "Part of the frustrations that exist in the Middle East, and I recognize this, is the fact that there is no movement toward peace with the Palestinians. Part of the frustration in the Middle East is also the fact that some of these governments need to enact reforms, and that's why both reform and working on the Middle East for peace will be priorities of mine," he said.

With most of the fighting in Iraq finish, the Bush Administration is turning more of its attention to the Middle East where Arab allies say Washington needs to be more active in ending more than 30 months of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

President Bush says the so-called "roadmap" for peace will set out a three-year timeline for power sharing between Israelis and Palestinians toward the eventual creation of a separate Palestinian state by the end of 2005. That plan calls on Palestinians to stop terrorism and on Israel to end settlements in occupied territories.

After more than two years in office, President Bush has never met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr. Bush said that is in part, because of Mr. Arafat's inability to deliver on a peace plan drawn-up by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. "I looked at the history of Mr. Arafat. Now, I saw what he did to President Clinton. There was no need to spend capital, unless you had an interlocutor who could deliver the Palestinian people toward peace," he said. "And I believe Abu Mazen is a man dedicated to peace, and I look forward to working with him for the two-state solution."

Unlike Chairman Arafat, President Bush says he intends to meet with the new Palestinian prime minister to push ahead with the Middle East "roadmap" which Washington hopes will begin a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.