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Arafat Nominates Korei as Prime Minister - 2003-09-08

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has nominated parliament Speaker Ahmed Korei as his new prime minister. The decision follows crisis talks, after the resignation of the previous prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

Senior Palestinian officials have confirmed that Mr. Arafat has tapped veteran politician Ahmed Korei to be the new prime minister. The choice was approved by the Palestinian leadership, but Mr. Korei has not yet said whether he will accept the post. His nomination follows months of tension that culminated in the resignation, Saturday, of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Abbas lost out in a power struggle with Yasser Arafat over control of the Palestinian security apparatus.

Mr. Korei is viewed as a moderate. He was instrumental in working out the Oslo peace accords of 1993, between Israel and the Palestinians. He is regarded as a savvy politician with experience in negotiating with Israel.

Israel has not yet responded to Mr. Korei's nomination, but had said previously it not hold peace negotiations with Yasser Arafat or any of his hand-picked lieutenants.

Mahmoud Abbas had little support among Palestinians, but he had the staunch backing of Israel and the United States and, in the end, that may have been his downfall. Many Palestinians regarded him as a weak leader, forced on them from outside. He strongly supported the internationally-backed "road map" to peace, but was unable and unwilling to openly confront and dismantle Palestinian militant groups, as required by the peace plan.

Palestinian officials say -- once the new prime minister is in office -- the first priority will be to get the road map back on track.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that any new prime minister would have to have clear political authority and control of the Palestinian security forces to clamp down militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Speaking on American television, Mr. Powell said he did not think it a good idea to force Yasser Arafat into exile. His comments came after recent calls by senior Israeli officials -- including Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom -- that Mr. Arafat be expelled.