Arafat Agrees to Appoint Prime Minister

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Friday said he would appoint a prime minister, a key reform that the United States and the European Union have demanded.

However, he did not say who the prime minister would be, when the appointment would take place or how much power he would share with the prime minister.

Arafat made the announcement in a news conference following a meeting with European Union, United Nations and Russian diplomats in talks held at his battered headquarters in Ramallah.

"I have decided to appoint a prime minister," Arafat told reporters. "I will call for an immediate meeting of the Palestinian Legislative Council ... to discuss this decision and to take the needed measures."

European and American officials have been demanding a series of reforms by Arafat and his Palestinian Authority. One of the most important has been naming a prime minister that would share control of day-to-day affairs.

Arafat has also come under pressure from his own people to reform his inefficient and corruption-ridden government. Israel and the United States refuse to deal with Arafat directly, charging that he encourages attacks against Israel, and have pressed for his replacement or sidelining.

Arafat had hinted in recent months he would appoint a prime minister but did make any public announcement until Friday.

Palestinians have rejected the attempts to neutralize Arafat, noting that he was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996. Arafat has been the main leader of the Palestinian political movement for more than three decades.

The envoys told Arafat they wanted him to announce his agreement to the new posts by Feb. 18, when officials of the so-called Quartet -- the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia -- will meet to discuss the reforms. The Quartet is working on a rough peace plan.

The EU and U.N. officials also asked Arafat to appoint a new team for negotiations with Israel, to name a national security adviser and give the Palestinian Legislative Council more authority, the officials said.

Israeli media have reported that the Americans are pressing for the appointment of Finance Minister Salam Fayad as prime minister.