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White House 'Encouraged' After Israel, Palestinian Leaders' Meeting


The White House says it is encouraged by the results of the latest meeting between the Palestinian and Israeli Prime Ministers.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer makes clear President Bush believes the peace process is on the right track.

"The president is pleased that the process is continuing where Prime Minister Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon are working as hard as they are, as diligently as they are and in the spirit that they are, to make progress and move their way forward in achieving peace," he said.

This was the third meeting in Jerusalem between the new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israel's Ariel Sharon. The atmosphere between them appeared cordial, with the two taking part in a joint, live television appearance just prior to their discussions.

Mr. Sharon said their aim was to project an image of hope and optimism. Mr. Abbas said the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is a political conflict that will be ended through political means.

The White House spokesman said their words were heard in Washington and praised the sentiments expressed in Jerusalem.

"It's an encouraging moment when you see the two leaders speak like that," said Mr. Fleischer.

During a session with reporters, Mr. Fleischer was asked if the United States is ready to provide aid directly to the Palestinian Authority. American assistance is now provided through international aid agencies because of long-standing concerns about corruption within the Palestinian leadership. Mr. Fleischer said no decision has been made, but hinted that change is possible now that a new Palestinian cabinet is in place under Mahmoud Abbas.

"There has been a change in leadership in the Palestinian Authority,' he said. "They have a new finance minister who is dedicated to openness and transparency and honesty. Certainly, Prime Minister Abbas is dedicated to the same."

He said the Bush administration is going to talk to the Palestinians about possible changes. The issue could be on the agenda when Mr. Abbas comes to Washington for his first meeting at the White House with President Bush. Planning for the visit is under way, but no date has been announced.