WASHINGTON - In his first meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas since Hamas came to power, US President George W. Bush praised the Palestinian leader, calling him "a man of peace." In the meeting, which was held in New York, Bush repeated his commitment to promote a two-state solution and lead to an independent Palestinian state, making clear that he sees Abbas as a partner for this mission.
"I fully understand that in order to achieve this vision, there must be leaders willing to speak out and act on behalf of people who yearn for peace, and you are such a leader, Mr. President," Bush said, while standing next to Abbas at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. "I can't thank you enough for the courage you have shown."
In their public remarks, the two leaders did not touch on the issue of the PA national unity government, which would include Abbas's Fatah faction and Hamas. US officials have made it clear in recent days that for the international community to end its ban on ties with the PA and on direct financial assistance, the new government must adopt the Quartet's three conditions: recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept previously signed agreements.
Elliot Abrams, Bush's top Middle East adviser, said after the meeting that Bush reiterated his insistence that the new government must adhere to the three principles.
Abbas told Bush that the Palestinian people were in dire need of help and said he was looking forward to the US's assistance.
In the meeting, which lasted 40 minutes, Bush and Abbas discussed the future of the Middle East peace plan. Palestinian sources said Abbas asked Bush to work for the renewal of the road map plan. Bush, according to White House officials, stressed the need for direct talks between Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The meeting between Bush and Abbas is seen as part of an effort by the US administration to restart the peace process and find a way to keep open channels of communication with the Palestinians without dealing directly with Hamas.