President Bush is expressing his condolences to the Palestinian people, following the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

President Bush says Yasser Arafat's death is a significant moment in Palestinian history and that he hopes the future fulfills aspirations for an independent, democratic state at peace with its neighbors.

In a written statement, President Bush says, during the period of transition ahead, all nations must join in helping make progress toward the ultimate goal of peace.

Speaking before the Palestinian leader's death, following a meeting with the NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, secretary general, President Bush said there may be a new opening for peace in the Middle East, if Palestinians choose a new leader who renounces violence.

"There will be an opening for peace, when leadership of the Palestinian people steps forward and says help us build a democratic and free society," he said. "When that happens, and I believe it is going to happen because I believe all people desire to live in freedom -- the United States of America will be more than willing to help build the institutions necessary for a free society to emerge so the Palestinians can have their own state."

Along with the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, Mr. Bush launched a so-called "road map" for Middle East peace, including a series of compromises and security guarantees designed to lead toward the creation of an independent Palestinian state, alongside Israel.

But that road map has stalled amidst continuing violence in the region. Getting that plan going again is at the top of the agenda of the president's meeting Friday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.