WASHINGTON – Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (search) is taking home a strong statement from President Bush calling for an end to Jewish settlements on the West Bank (search), but also with an admonition that all terror activity must stop.
Abbas left a long list of demands behind for Bush to take up next Tuesday at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search).
Accusing Israel repeatedly during his stay of grabbing Palestinian land, Abbas wants the settlements dismantled, up to 3,000 Palestinian prisoners freed and a halt in construction of a security fence to separate Israel from Palestinian areas.
Bush agreed the settlements must go, but he told the new leader that all terror activity must stop before Israel makes major concessions.
The president said he has spoken out constantly "for the need to end the settlements," but he said security was the central issue, and that ending terror would mean "more progress will be made on difficult issues."
And while promising to discuss the prisoners with Sharon, Bush said "surely nobody would want to let a cold-blooded killer out of prison. I would never ask anybody in any society to let a prisoner out who would then commit terrorist actions."
Sharon is expected to tell the president he will reconsider building the fence and will release some prisoners.
Turning to Abbas, who stood alongside him in the White House Rose Garden, Bush said: "I'm going to tell you point blank that we must make sure that any terrorist activity is rooted out in order for us to be able to deal with these big issues."
"This is the time of possibility in the Middle East," Bush said. "People in the region are counting on the leaders to seize opportunities for peace and progress."
After their Oval Office meeting, the president announced steps aimed at easing poverty among Palestinians, and assured Abbas the United States remained committed to ensuring free and secure states for both Palestine and Israel.
Bush said Treasury Secretary John Snow and Commerce Secretary Don Evans would travel to the region this fall to begin work on bringing jobs and development to Palestinian areas. He said he told Abbas that the United States would "strive to see that promises are kept," and monitor the progress toward creating a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.
Abbas thanked Bush for $20 million in direct assistance to Palestinians, and for making "relentless efforts" to pursue peace. But for peace to work, he said, the Israelis must live up to their commitments about removing Jewish outposts on the West Bank.
"All settlement activities must be stopped and the wall must come down," Abbas said. "A transformation of human conditions on the ground must occur. Attacks on the dignity of Palestinians must end."
"We have succeeded significantly where Israel with its military might has failed in reducing violence," Abbas said.
Reflecting U.S. emphasis on security, Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, held three unannounced meetings with Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian security minister, and another with Abbas.
The White House made no statement about Rice's talks.
Abbas wound up Friday with a half-hour meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell. He intends to stop in Morocco on his way home.