WASHINGTON – President Bush called on the new Palestinian prime minister Wednesday to crack down on terrorism and said the United States has not abandoned its blueprint for Mideast peace despite a surge in violence and political turmoil.
"I still believe strongly that two states living side by side in peace is a hopeful vision for the future of the Middle East," Bush told reporters in the Oval Office. "The road map is still there. The fundamental question is whether or not people, peaceful people, will be on the road."
Speaking of Qureia, Bush said, "His job, if he's interested in a two-state solution, is to consolidate power within his administration, to get the security forces under control, all the security forces, and then unleash those security forces against killers."
Reflecting on bloodshed in the Mideast, Bush said, "Tough times here now." He said he mourned the loss of innocent life.
Twin homicide bombings killed 15 Israelis, and Israel retaliated by attacking the home of a senior Hamas (search) leader.
Bush said a central tenet of the U.S. plan for peace is that "the parties need to be responsible for creating conditions necessary for peace to prevail. Probably the most important condition for peace to prevail is for all parties to fight off terror, to dismantle organizations whose intent is to destroy the vision of peace."
He spoke at the conclusion of a meeting with the prime minister of Kuwait, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah (search).
On Capitol Hill, after briefing the House International Relations Committee behind closed doors, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said "it's not a question of a change of leadership. It's a question of stopping violence."
"The new leadership, the Palestinian Authority (search), has to dedicate itself to stopping the violence and being seen as directing 100 percent of the effort to that end," he said.
An American diplomat based on Jerusalem, Jeff Feltman, met Wednesday with Qureia, while U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kertzer and Assistant Secretary of State John S. Wolf met with Israeli officials.
Who will be appointed to the Palestinian cabinet is of great interest to the administration, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Offering no new plans and maintaining a minimum level of diplomacy, the administration is leaving it to the Palestinians to sort out a power structure that so far inevitably leads back to Yasser Arafat (search), the president of the Palestinian Authority who has been blacklisted by the U.S. administration.
Holding firm on a U.S.-backed road map for peacemaking that calls for an end to terror, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday that a Palestinian prime minister must be able to take charge of all Palestinian security services and "be empowered to do the things that need to be done."
But Qureia, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, said he would need Arafat's backing to govern. Also, he urged Israel to lift its siege on Arafat's West Bank headquarters, to end the targeting of Palestinian extremists and to carry out terms of the road map.
When he was tapped by Arafat earlier in the week, Qureia said he would fail as a prime minister if Israel did not curb its military action.