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US Middle East Envoy Meets Palestinian PM - 2003-05-06

U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns told senior Palestinian officials that the establishment of a Palestinian state is a top priority for Washington.

Mr. Burns told Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas that U.S. President George W. Bush is determined to see the creation of a Palestinian state under a new international peace plan.

Mr. Burns made his comments during a meeting with Mr. Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where they discussed the so-called roadmap to peace.

The American envoy said President Bush is strongly committed to working toward a two-state vision in which Israel and the Palestinians would live peacefully side by side.

Following the meeting, Mr. Burns told reporters that, to reach that goal, the Palestinians must fight terrorism, and the Israelis must halt the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip

"On the Palestinian side, that means there is absolutely no substitute, no substitute for a decisive fight against terror and violence," said Mr. Burns. "And on the Israeli side, it also means taking practical steps to ease the suffering of Palestinians living under occupation, to stop settlement activity and renew a sense of dignity and hope."

Mr. Burns's mediation efforts are aimed at paving the way for a visit to the area later this month by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who will also hold discussions with both sides on the roadmap.

The plan, made public last week, calls for the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for a Palestinian state to be founded by 2005. The roadmap is supported by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

Mr. Burns did not meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who President Bush says should be replaced.

Mr. Powell is also expected to shun Mr. Arafat during his upcoming visit.