WASHINGTON – Once a new Palestinian prime minister is appointed to a position of "real authority" and Israelis end their settlement activity in occupied territories, the United States is prepared to implement a road map to peace that has been in the works for nearly a year, President Bush said Friday.
"The new Palestinian prime minister must hold a position of real authority; we expect that such a Palestinian prime minister will be confirmed soon. Immediately upon confirmation, the road map for peace will be given to the Palestinians and Israelis," Bush said in a Rose Garden announcement.
Refusing questions from reporters, the president's brief message was meant not only to set up objectives for the parties in the Mideast to meet but to appease other nations critical of an impending war against Iraq.
At the United Nations, France in particular has been extremely critical of the Bush administration's policy on Iraq, claiming that the Israel-Palestinian issue is more dangerous than Iraq.
"The time has come to move beyond entrenched positions and to take concrete actions to achieve peace," Bush said, adding that he is personally committed to implementing the road map.
"There is no new ground here, but it is, in effect, a diplomatic outreach to the Europeans as well as to the Arab states on the eve of war," said Marc Ginsberg, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco.
Ginsberg said that the president's setting down a marker on the prime minister's appointment and sending a signal to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat accomplishes several functions.
"Just this last week when the Palestinian legislative council designated an office of the prime minister, it was quite clear that the White House sent signals that unless Arafat was willing to cede powers of security and foreign policy, this prime minister [post] was worth nothing more than the paper it was printed on," Ginsberg said.
Last month, Arafat reluctantly agreed to name his longtime aide Mahmoud Abbas to the post --but he vowed to retain control of Palestinian security services, and a final say on peace talks. Earlier this week, Arafat delayed putting his signature to the bill creating the prime minister's office.
While the Palestinian legislative council make gestures, Ginsberg said the president's comments are also significant because they are timed to push Security Council members who have expressed misgivings about the delay in implementing the road map laid out by the president last June and being worked on by Russia, members of the European Union and the United Nations.
Ginsberg said the remarks also send a signal to Arab states that want the United States to push Israel to stop settlement activity in the occupied territories.
Addressing whether the timing of the remarks will be taken with incredulity by the Arab nations, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said after Bush's comments that he thinks the Arab states should take them very seriously.
"I think it's precisely now, when we do have all this focus on weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein, that we say to the Arab and Muslim world that we except the obligation of even-handedness -- that the issue of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis is as important as any other issue," Blair said.
In an effort to appease Arab nations, Bush specifically mentioned the cessation of settlements as a precursor to implementing the road map.
"The government of Israel, as the terror threat is removed and security improves, must take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable and credible Palestinian state and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement. As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end," Bush said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell joined Bush by his side during the comments. Powell has been working to develop the formula for peace, which includes the creation of a Palestinian state by the year 2005, carved out of land that Israel has held for more than 35 years.
Fox News' Teri Schultz contributed to this report.