President Bush says there may be a new opening for peace in the Middle East if Palestinians choose a new leader who renounces violence. Mr. Bush spoke as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat remains near death in a French hospital.
While not referring directly to Mr. Arafat, President Bush made clear that he sees a chance to jump-start the stalled Middle East peace talks with new Palestinian leaders.
Mr. Bush said, "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. 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."
President Bush, speaking after a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said he thinks there is a chance to do that and he looks forward to being involved in that process.
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 amid continuing violence in the region. Getting the plan going again is at the top of the agenda of the president's meeting Friday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.