WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) expressed concern Sunday about whether the Palestinian Authority (search) will move firmly to end terrorist violence after choosing a new president.
Powell said he found it "disturbing" that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search), the favorite to succeed the late Yasser Arafat (search), would campaign for support while being carried on the shoulders of gunmen considered heroes to many Palestinians but terrorists by most Israelis.
Powell said nonetheless he remains convinced that Abbas' "prevailing position" is recognition of "the need to end terror and the need to try to persuade all segments of the Palestinian population to move away from terror and to move toward this opportunity for peace."
"If they don't move in that direction, then we're going to be stuck again. So we need reformed Palestinian leadership that deals with this terrorist threat," Powell told NBC's "Meet the Press."
Powell said that if Abbas becomes president, however, he may have to do more than just try to persuade terrorists to stop their violence. "He may have to undertake operations against them," Powell said.
"If he does that, and shows a real commitment to end terror, I think he will find an Israeli partner ready to work with him, and he will certainly find the international community, and the especially the United States, ready to play an important role," he said.
Powell told CNN's "Late Edition" he was confident that the Jan. 9 elections for a new leader of the Palestinian Authority would proceed as planned.
"The Israelis know that they have to open the area up to allow people to campaign and to get to registration places and poll places, and we've also seen a solution to the problem of Palestinians voting in East Jerusalem," Powell said. "So I think we're moving forward toward successful elections on the 9th."
Asked whether President Bush should name a special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Powell said that over the past four years "we've never really had conditions in place."
Abbas holds a significant lead over his rivals in the campaign, according to a poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (search) that was published Sunday.
Bush has put a revitalized Mideast peace process among the foreign policy priorities of his second term.