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Bush Welcomes Palestinian PM Abbas to White House

President Bush welcomes Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to the White House Friday. The Palestinian leader wants Washington to put more pressure on Israel to stop building settlements on the West Bank.

This is the invitation Yasser Arafat never got. Though he meets regularly with Israeli leaders, President Bush refused to invite the Palestinian leader to the White House because he says Mr. Arafat is not doing enough to fight terrorism.

Those objections helped lead to reforms in the Palestinian Authority that created the post of prime minister and lead to President Bush's personal involvement in the process as Mr. Abbas will be this administration's highest ranking Palestinian guest.

The two leaders will meet privately and share lunch at the White House where Mr. Abbas is expected to urge the president to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to comply with more of the early conditions in the so-called road map to Middle East peace.

Progress in that plan has slowed over disagreements over the release of more than 7,000 Palestinian prisoners and Israeli demands that Mr. Abbas do more to break-up Palestinian militants.

Mr. Abbas told members of the U.S. Congress Thursday that Prime Minister Sharon is undermining the "road map" by continuing to build Jewish settlements on the West Bank and a security fence separating Israeli and Palestinian areas.

Mr. Abbas told legislators he would continue to work to prevent terrorist attacks and enact financial and security reforms in the Palestinian movement in keeping with the peace plan drawn-up by the United States, the United Nations, Russia, and the European Union.

That plan sets out a timetable for power sharing toward the creation of a independent Palestinian state by 2005. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Lebanese Broadcast Corporation that the 2005 goal will be difficult but could be achieved if, as he says, things speed up as confidence between the two sides grows.

Mr. Abbas is under pressure from his own parliament to make progress in these talks. Palestinian legislators will re-convene once Mr. Abbas returns from Washington to discuss whether he still has their confidence.

President Bush meets Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon who wants Mr. Abbas to do more to dismantle militant groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad that have targeted Israeli civilians.