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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Bush 'endorses' Palestinian state
US Secretary of State Colin Powell (left) and US President George W Bush
Mr Powell (left) was to have launched the initiative at the UN
Roger Hardy

President George W Bush has said the creation of a Palestinian state had always been part of the United States' vision for the Middle East.

But he said it was vital to first reduce the violence in the region.

"The idea of a Palestinian state has always been a part of a vision, so long as the right of Israel to exist is respected," Mr Bush told reporters after a meeting with congressional leaders.

Progress in the Middle East can be measured in centimetres

President George W Bush
His comments followed reports from Washington that, prior to the terror attacks on 11 September, the Bush administration had been planning a new Middle East initiative - including support for the creation of a Palestinian state.

According to the New York Times and the Washington Post, the initiative was to have been launched with a speech to the United Nations General Assembly by the US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The plan was that Mr Powell would set out - for the first time - the administration's proposals for a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

He would support the creation of a Palestinian state - something no Republican administration has ever done.

'Rewarding terrorism'

And at about the same time President Bush would hold his first meeting with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But the initiative was delayed by the attacks of the 11 September - and now senior officials are left wondering how to revive it.

To go ahead with the initiative would upset the Sharon government in Israel and Israel's friends in Washington.

They would claim that to signal a shift in US policy would be to reward terrorism in general and Yasser Arafat in particular - since Israeli officials argue Mr Arafat is the cause of the violence in the Middle East over the last year.

But even more pressing for the administration is the need to show its Arab and Muslim allies that it is ready to be genuinely even-handed in its approach to one of the world's most intractable problems.

President Bush needs their support as he prepares for military action against Afghanistan, partly for logistical reasons and partly to show that he is waging war against terrorism, not against Islam.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Washington
"The shift in policy won immediate approval from Palestinians"
Middle East analyst Scott Lasensky
"It's importance is more symbolic"
See also:

01 Oct 01 | Middle East
Peres fears army plot against Arafat
30 Sep 01 | Middle East
Israel gives Arafat ceasefire ultimatum
12 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
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