WASHINGTON – President Bush's meeting with Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal Thursday was warm, but the president is not yet ready to declare a plan to establish a Palestinian state, the White House said.
In the 20-minute Oval Office meeting, the two "exchanged a variety of ideas on how to move forward," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.
Despite not having a schedule for proceeding on Palestinian statehood, the prince said he "was very pleased with what I heard from the president." He met separately with Vice President Dick Cheney.
The meeting is the last in a trio of consultations this week that are helping the president form a decision on how the U.S. plans to proceed on the peace process in the Middle East and the creation of a Palestinian state.
Bush's meeting with al-Faisal is the third leg in a week of negotiations that started with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the weekend and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday.
Bush could announce how he intends to secure a Palestinian state as early as next week. The announcement is expected to be balanced with a call for an end to the terror attacks plaguing Israel.
"We're going to be bringing all these ideas together; these threads we've picked up over the last few months, and weave them into an extension of the president's vision," Secretary of State Colin Powell said during a trip to Canada Wednesday. "Once we've had a chance to reflect on all of these ideas, the president will communicate to the American people, the world and the region how we are going to try to move forward."
"The administration continues to listen, continues to consult," Fleischer said Thursday.
Aboard a flight to Vancouver Wednesday to attend a G-8 meeting of industrialized nations, Powell expressed surprise at reporters' questions about remarks he made in an Arabic-language newspaper calling for an "interim, provisional or transitional Palestinian administration" in short order.
Powell said that none of his comments are different from anything that has been said before.
"On the one hand, there are those who believe that unless you have a political horizon put in place that people can see, it will be hard for the Arabs and Palestinians to move forward with the kinds of reforms that are required to improve security and to bring greater accountability to the Palestinian leadership," he said. "There are some who are concerned that, if you just state a provisional state idea, you may never get to the end state."
Powell was responding to questions about an interview he gave to the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat that appeared in Wednesday editions. In it, Powell said Mideast peace could begin with a transitional or temporary state for the Palestinian people.
Powell told reporters Wednesday that if a Palestinian state were created, "it would have to have some structure, some institutions, but what kind? That's why we're focusing so hard on transformation and reform. You have to have responsible institutions to be the basis of such a state. It doesn't have to be finalized."
Bush said this week that he wants "security steps, transparency when it comes to economic matters, anti-corruption devices, rule of law enforced by a court system" before proceeding with a peace plan. But Powell told Al-Hayat that the process of reform should not interrupt establishment of a state on land seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
"The president has not retreated from his goal," Powell told Al-Hayat. "He knows that in order to achieve this vision, it might be necessary to set up a temporary state as a transitional step."
"[P]erhaps several steps before this ends" might be necessary, he added.
Fleischer supported Powell's references to multiple options but did not say anything about a decision.
"Welcome to the Middle East. This is a situation where people get a variety of information, a variety of advice and if the president has anything further to indicate, he will," he said.
For one, Bush is not set on working with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as the only representative of the Palestinian people.
"The president has expressed his disappointment in Chairman Arafat on many occasions. And I have expressed my disappointment," Powell said, adding that while "we will continue to work with him" as the current leader of the Palestinian people, "we are also going to work with other leaders. We're looking for leadership ... There has to be performance ... We have to get the security situation under control."
On another front, Bush has said the time was not yet ripe for a Mideast peace conference that Powell suggested for this summer. Powell said the Mideast foreign ministers meeting would be the first of several.
The Arab plan calls for Israel to return the land it seized in war, including the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the eastern part of Jerusalem. Sharon has said on several occasions that would not be possible if Israel is to protect itself.
Bush is the first president to recommend a Palestinian state, and Sharon, who ended a Washington visit Tuesday, has said he would agree to a state if security and other conditions were met.
Powell is to meet Friday with al-Faisal to "complete this round of consultations."
Fox News' Teri Schultz and the Associated Press contributed to this report.