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Quartet Welcomes Bush's Personal Involvement

Mideast Quartet Welcomes Bush's Personal Involvement in Peace Effort

(U.N., U.S., E.U., Russian officials at economic forum in Jordan)

By Phillip Kurata - Washington File Staff Correspondent

Dead Sea, Jordan -- The international coalition involved in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians and working for the establishment of a Palestinian state has welcomed the personal involvement of President Bush in the peace effort.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke on behalf of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia -- known collectively as the Quartet when dealing with the Middle East peace issue.

"I would like, on behalf of the Quartet, to welcome the personal engagement of President Bush, demonstrated in the Sharm El-Sheikh and Aqaba summits. His continued involvement is going to be vital to progress in the months ahead," Annan said.

Annan, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and European Union representatives George Papandreou and Javier Solana faced reporters in a press conference at a Jordanian resort on the shores of the Dead Sea June 22 as they participated in a gathering of the World Economic Forum.

A written statement issued by the Quartet at the close of the press conference says the group endorsed the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas as the first Palestinian prime minister and praised "the strong start he and his government have made in difficult circumstances."

The statement also welcomes the Israeli and Palestinian authorities' acceptance of the roadmap -- the group's plan to end the conflict and establish a Palestinian state that would exist in peace and security alongside Israel.

The statement expresses support for President Bush's decision to "place a mission on the ground charged with helping the parties to move toward peace, through establishment of a credible and effective structure led by the United States, in close cooperation with the Quartet, to coordinate, monitor and promote implementation of the parties' commitments and responsibilities, as laid out in the roadmap."

"It is essential that a way be found to break the cycle of violence, counterviolence, and revenge," Annan said.

The statement appeals to the Palestinian Authority to make all possible efforts to stop terrorist attacks against Israelis by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and welcomes the efforts by the Egyptian government and others to press for a "comprehensive halt to armed action by Palestinian groups."

Annan said that active Israeli cooperation is needed for the Palestinians to succeed to suppressing terrorism.

"Israeli military actions that result in the killing of Palestinian civilians do not enhance security and undermine trust and prospects for cooperation. Israel must make every possible effort to support the Palestinian government and to take immediate actions to ease the plight of the Palestinian people," Annan said.

Speaking in his capacity as the U.N. secretary-general, Annan said the security, humanitarian and political issues must be addressed at the same time. He spoke out against the Israelis using "disproportionate force" in civilian areas, carrying out house demolitions, and engaging in extra-judicial killings.

"Unless the Palestinians feel a positive change in their daily lives including ending movement restrictions, freezing settlement activities and reestablishing economic activity, I fear that there will not be sufficient support to sustain peace," Annan said.

In response to a question, Secretary Powell expressed "regret" for an "incident" involving an Israeli assassination of an alleged terrorist. He said such actions must not be allowed to end progress toward peace.

"What we're trying to do with the roadmap is to get both parties to start meeting their obligations and commitments and move forward. We have had a start on that. Israel has started by taking down some of the outposts and releasing prisoners. On the Palestinian side, we've seen a new seriousness with respect to doing something about terror and violence and the prime minister speaking out clearly on the need to end the armed intifada," Powell said.

Powell said a return to violence is not an alternative for the Israelis, the Palestinians and the people of the region. The Secretary expressed support for plans to put responsibility for security in Gaza in the hands of the Palestinian Authority. He said an Israeli military withdrawal carries a level of risk, but the Palestinians have tools to end terrorism. Powell said it is important to keep in mind that the blame for terrorism lies on groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and nowhere else.

Speaking for the European Union, Papandreou said the international community is committed to acting together to work for peace and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. He added that President Bush's commitment will play a vital role in the success of the peace effort.

The second EU representative, Javier Solana, said the international community needs to help the Palestinians acquire schools, hospitals and hope as well as support the efforts of the Palestinian Authority to assume responsibilities for security.

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