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Bush blames Arafat for peace failure

New Palestinian leaders would ease way, president says

President Bush acknowledged on Thursday that efforts toward peace in the Middle East had stalled, and he blamed the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom he branded a failure.

But Bush restated his commitment to a "road map" for peace and said a new Palestinian leadership would ease the way.

"I remain committed, solidly committed, to the vision of two states living side by side in peace and security," Bush said, referring to Israel and a future Palestinian state. "Yet that would only happen with new Palestinian leadership committed to fighting terror, not compromised by terror."

The president met reporters at Camp David, Md., with King Abdullah II of Jordan by his side. Bush praised the king as "a reformer who's working to build a country that is tolerant and modern and prosperous" and a man dedicated to peace throughout the Middle East.

"I look forward to discussing with His Majesty how we can encourage Palestinian reform; how we can work together to fight off the terrorists who want to destroy the hopes of many; and how we can move forward to peace, peace in a region that needs peace," Bush said.

Bush recalled that Abdullah hosted a meeting in June at which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, who was then the Palestinian prime minister, condemned terrorism and pledged to work together for a lasting peace.

But Abbas' efforts "were undermined, and that's why we're now stalled," Bush lamented. "At every turn, he was undercut by the old order."

Bush not only blamed Arafat for undercutting Abbas, who resigned recently as prime minister, but once again made clear his deep disdain for Arafat.

"Mr. Arafat has failed as a leader," the president said. "Prime Minister Abbas was undermined at all turns by the old order." If the Palestinians truly want peace, Bush said, "they must have leadership who is absolutely 100 percent committed to fighting off terror."

The king, who was at Camp David with his wife, Queen Rania, said he was "particularly honored by the strong, genuine dedication" that Bush had shown in "trying to make our part of the world a better place."

Bush said he looked forward to hearing the king's suggestions on how best to obtain a U.N. resolution backing international efforts to impose a peace on Iraq. "He's got pretty good antennae," Bush said.

The president described the king as important not just for the prospects of a U.N. resolution but for promoting a free, prosperous Iraq as a neighbor.

"A free Iraq will mean this good man will have a partner in peace, somebody with whom he can work to not only establish good trade, but to work for additional peace," Bush said. "And it's in Europe's interests that that happen. And so we will continue to make the case that reconstruction aid is necessary."