Visiting U.S., Olmert to discuss with Rice return to road map, aid

On an official visit to the United States, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday evening will meet in Washington with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss issues raised in the wake of the completion of the disengagement plan. According to Israel Radio, Rice had requested the meeting to discuss the return to the framework of the road map to peace, co-sponsored by the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. During their meeting, the two will also discuss the U.S. aid to Israel following the disengagement. Israel has asked the U.S. for two billions dollars to fund housing arrangements for the evacuated settlers as well as for the development of the Negev and the Galilee. Bush: Next step is working gov’t. in Gaza A day after the last settlers were ousted in the Gaza Strip, President George W. Bush said on Tuesday the next step is the establishment of a working, responsive Palestinian government in the Strip, as well as consolidation of PA security forces. Bush reiterated his praise for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over his decision to withdraw about 8,000 civilians, saying it changed the dynamics on the ground and provided hope for the Palestinian people. „What must take place next is the establishment of a working government in Gaza, a government that responds to the people,” he said at a vacation resort in this western state. Bush said that for progress to be made on the road map „there must be confidence, confidence that the Palestinian people will have in their own government to perform; the confidence with the Israelis that they’ll see a peaceful state emerging.” Therefore, he said, it was important „to stay focused on Gaza, and helping Gaza – helping the Gaza economy get going, helping rebuild the settlements for Gaza – for the people of Gaza.” He said Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, has committed himself to fight off violence because he understands a democracy can’t exist with terrorist groups trying to take the law in their own hands. Bush said that different Palestinian factions and security forces that were in place to help keep longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in power, did not provide overall security for the Palestinian people. Arafat died in November. „It is in the interest to consolidate those security forces so that the government has a vehicle and a group of folks by which to help enforce order,” he said. Bush said American envoy General William Ward was working in the region to help the Palestinians consolidate their forces. Another American, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, is helping Abbas develop a government that responds to the will of the people. BPI-info