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Bush pledges to deliver road map for Mideast peace

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Washington (dpa) - U.S. President George W. Bush said on Friday a long-awaited international peace plan to resolve the conflict in the Middle East will be delivered to the Palestinian and Israeli governments as soon as a new Palestinian prime minister takes office.

Speaking in London British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that nominated Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas could take office as early as next week.

The announcements came amidst reports of an upcoming summit on Iraq on the weekend, and appears geared toward regaining diplomatic momentum as a new U.N. resolution to authorize a war on Iraq seemed doomed.

Bush also called on Israelis to halt settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and for an end Palestinian violence.

"As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end,'' Bush said at the White House with Secretary of State Colin Powell standing beside him.

The United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations -known as the Quartet - have been working the so-called "road map'' to peace during the last several months, but have not publicly discussed the details of the plan.

Palestinian lawmakers earlier this week approved the creation of the prime minister post after Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat yielded to international pressure, and nominated his long-time deputy Mahmud Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, to fill the position. Palestinian lawmakers, however, have yet to confirm Abbas's nomination.

"To be a credible and responsible partner, the new Palestinian prime minister must hold a position of real authority,'' Bush said. "We expect that such a Palestinian prime minister will be confirmed soon.''

Previously the U.S. diplomats had withheld the plan pending Israeli elections which took place earlier this year and the formation of a new government.

According to diplomatic observers the U.S. has been hesitant in pressing Israeli premier Ariel Sharon for concessions because they need his goodwill to keep Israel out of any conflict in Iraq. On Thursday, Powell said final details of the road map were being worked out. The plan outlines steps Israelis and Palestinians must take to jump start the peace process and envisions the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

Bush has insisted the Palestinians initiate reforms to end corruption and crack down on terrorism. Among them are new leadership within the Palestinian government.

"A Palestinian state must be a reformed and peaceful and democratic state that abandons forever the use of terror,'' Bush said.

He also called on Arab countries to stop supporting terrorism and "and state clearly that they will live in peace with Israel''.

Under international criticism for neglecting the conflict while focusing on Iraq, Bush in a speech last month tied the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians to the U.S. effort to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He said the establishment of a democracy in Iraq could bring sweeping changes to the region, underscoring the point again Friday morning.

"We believe that people who live in freedom are more likely to reject bitterness, blind hatred and terror, and are far more likely to turn their energy toward reconciliation, reform and development,'' he said.

Once the Israeli and Palestinian governments receive the plan, the United States will encourage the two sides to directly discuss the plan with each other, and negotiate amendments to the road map.

When the 1991 Gulf War ended, the United States launched a peace initiative between Israel and Arab countries that lay the ground for the historic Madrid peace conference in 1992 and face-to-face negotiations between Israeli and Arab leaders.

The United States has been bogged down in its diplomatic effort to win Security Council backing for a war against Iraq if Saddam fails to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspections, and has been criticized in Europe and the Arab world for overlooking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 03/14/2003 11:29:28

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