WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted on Monday that any new Palestinian prime minister make a commitment to fight terror and be given control over security forces to get the job done.
But on the West Bank, Ahmed Qureia (search), the likely successor to Mahmoud Abbas (search), who quit in a showdown for control with Yasser Arafat (search), said he would face an impossible situation if Israel did not comply with its obligations under a U.S.-backed road map for peacemaking.
The Bush administration gave a little ground on this front. "Our goal is to move forward with both parties under the road map," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
But Powell, his spokesman and the White House all declared ending terror was the first priority. They gave no indication they would ease up on Qureia, known also as Abu Ala, or any other Palestinian prime minister.
Powell, after a meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio, told reporters: "We hope that however it turns out, whoever the prime minister is, and I would suspect it is going to be Abu Ala, that he will make a commitment to fight terrorism."
"And I hope that he will be given the political authority of the security forces and financial assets that are needed to undertake this task," Powell said.
Palacio, for her part, said "terrorists and peace cannot go together" and that was why the European Union decided to put Hamas on a terror list and try to choke off its financing.
Over the weekend, Powell telephoned Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, and then on Monday made a flurry of calls, including one to Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian foreign minister, as well as to senior European Union diplomat Javier Solana, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and to Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, whose government holds the presidency of the European Union.
The road map, which hangs in the balance, was prepared by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. Even before Abbas stepped down, Powell said last week that progress in implementing it was slow.
Boucher, summarizing the administration's message to the Palestinians, said "forward movement with continued terrorist activity by Hamas and other terrorist groups is simply not possible."
"Hamas and such groups obliterate the hopes for peace and the possibility of two states living side by side in peace and security," the spokesman said.
Still, to an extent, the administration kept some distance from the power struggle within the Palestinian movement.
"This is an internal matter among the Palestinian people," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Monday. "Our focus is on the institution of the prime minister and the power that it has."
But McClellan also said "it will be critical that the new cabinet continues to press for reforms and continues to fight terrorism."