President Bush, Palestinian Prime Minister Discuss Peace Plan

The call was the first direct contact between Mr. Bush and Mahmoud Abbas since the moderate Palestinian prime minister took office in April.

The president severed direct contact with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat in June 2002, when the administration publicly supported the creation of an independent Palestinian state, but said it could no longer work with Arafat because he did not support peace.

The administration called on Arafat to accept a series of reforms within the Palestinian Authority aimed at forcing the long-time leader to share power. The U.S. welcomed the creation of a separate prime minister’s post and then lobbied hard for the new position to go to Abbas, also know as Abu Mazen.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the president reiterated his support for Palestinian statehood, as well as the security of Israel, in his call to Abbas. The two leaders also discussed the terrorist attacks that have overshadowed the peace road map.

“Abu Mazen told the president he was committed to reform, to peace and to ending all acts of terror,” Fleischer said.

There were no suicide attacks in the region today. But reports indicated that the Israeli military reentered the border town of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip, ending a pullback that followed a deadly series of bombings over the weekend.

The initial pullback signaled a change in the usual escalation of fighting that follows suicide bombings, and Israel still has not responded with the type of military operation that has characteristically followed such attacks.

According to Middle East experts, the muted reaction could be an effort by the Israelis to give Abbas time for his new administration to gain control and pursue the proposed peace process.

President Bush also placed a call to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The two were supposed to meet in person at the White House Tuesday, but Sharon canceled the trip to stay in Israel to deal with the aftermath of the weekend terrorist attacks.

While talking with Sharon, the president praised Abbas, calling him a reformer who will work for peace, Fleischer said.

“The president views Abu Mazen as a new leader. He has just come into office, and these terrorist attacks are threats to him,” Fleischer said. “You know, he’s not the first new leader in the world to be greeted with terrorist attacks.”

Fleischer said the president believes that both Abbas and Sharon are committed to peace, and that Mr. Bush would meet with both leaders individually in the future. The administration also encouraged Abbas and Sharon to meet again.

“The key is to bring the two together so that peace can be achieved, despite the terrorist attacks,” Fleischer said.