Bush Urges Abbas to Clamp Down on Terrorism

At a White House meeting, President Bush urges Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, to do more to fight terrorism. Bush said Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip over the summer has created new opportunities and responsibilities for the Palestinian leadership.

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At the White House today, President Bush urged the leader of the Palestinian Authority to do more to fight terrorism. He said Israel's withdrawal from Gaza has created new opportunities and responsibilities for the Palestinians. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Today's White House meeting offered Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas a chance to get assurances that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza wasn't the end of the peace process, but a start. President Bush took the opportunity to remind Abbas of his obligation to dismantle terrorist groups.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The way forward must begin by confronting the threat that armed gangs pose to a genuinely democratic Palestine.

KELEMEN: Mr. Bush said he would soon name a new security coordinator to replace General William Ward, and would give that person expanded responsibilities to help Palestinians maintain law and order. The president also said he would extend the mission of former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who has been coordinating international aid for the Palestinian Authority to help build up the economy in Gaza.

For his part, the Palestinian leader said he's trying to turn his election slogans into reality and consolidate security forces. Abbas spoke through an interpreter.

President MAHMOUD ABBAS (Palestinian Authority): (Through Translator) We have taken active steps in imposing the rule of law and public order and ban armed demonstrations. Our measures are continuing to reinforce the judiciary branch as well as the administrative reform.

KELEMEN: What was noteworthy about today's Rose Garden news conference was what was not said. President Bush did not mention the Islamist militant group Hamas, which has long been on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. President Abbas' strategy is to co-opt rather than confront Hamas. He plans to let its representatives run for the Legislative Council in January, in hopes that the council will be seen as more legitimate by the Palestinian public. Some US officials are skeptical, but a State Department spokesman said how the Palestinian political process unfolds is a question for the Palestinians.

President Bush also gave Abbas a boost by reminding Israel of its obligations under the international peace plan known as the road map.

Pres. BUSH: Israel should not undertake any activity that contravenes its road map obligations or prejudices the final status negotiations with regard to Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. This means that Israel must remove unauthorized posts and stop settlement expansion.

KELEMEN: In an Op-Ed in today's Wall Street Journal, President Abbas said that Israel had made it difficult to build a functioning economy in Gaza because the main crossing point to Egypt and the airport are closed and there's no agreed corridor between Gaza and the West Bank. He also said that the past 24 months have seen the highest rate of West Bank settlement construction in all of the occupation years. Still, speaking through an interpreter, Abbas said he came away from his White House talks satisfied.

Pres. ABBAS: (Through Translator) We are leaving Washington more sure and more confidence of the possibility of reviving and resuming the peace process, and more determined to forge ahead along with the path of peace, democracy and freedom.

KELEMEN: One of Abbas' aides was less optimistic, though, saying President Bush has called on Israel to halt settlement construction before with little change on the ground. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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