Bush, Blair To Discuss Middle East Before Summit

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

London (CNSNews.com) - President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair planned to discuss the Middle East on Wednesday in advance of a summit of G8 leaders in Canada.

The U.K. government yesterday indicated overall endorsement of Bush's plan to exchange Palestinian statehood for major reform of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

"We strongly support the call for reforms to the Palestinian Authority and for new elections," Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the House of Commons. "These will be an opportunity for the Palestinian people to decide who will lead them towards a final and peaceful settlement."

"I recognise that there are also some uncomfortable messages here for the Palestinian Authority," Straw said. "But I am glad to note that President Arafat has welcomed the speech."

Questions still remain, however, about the willingness of Britain and European countries to push for PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's complete removal from power.

Blair's spokesman refused to directly answer questions about Arafat's status, although he did say that the U.S. and Britain weren't using "precisely the same language" but supported the same aims.

Across Europe, leaders lined up to support the plans - but also to emphasize that the Palestinian people alone should choose their leaders.

"We share the same fundamental objective, the perspective of two states living side by side in peace and security," said Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief. "And we agree on two basic conditions to reach that objective: an end to terrorism and an end to occupation."

A statement released by Spain, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, the called PA reform "essential." Europe has been calling for an international conference to hammer out the details of the peace plan.

"It is the right and responsibility of the Palestinian people to choose their leadership through democratic and fair elections," the statement read.

Bush took a tougher line on the Palestinian leader during his speech Monday. Although he didn't mention Arafat by name, he said that, "Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership."

"When the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state," Bush said.

Some Palestinians were critical of the speech, but Israel and Arafat himself came out in favor of the plan.

On Wednesday, the PA announced it would be holding elections next January.

E-mail a news tip to Mike Wendling.

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