Bush vows to work for Palestinian state
President, Blair confer on Mideast, Iraq at White House
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Friday promised to "spend the capital of the United States" to establish a Palestinian state and secure a lasting peace in the Middle East.
Bush met Friday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of his staunchest allies in the Iraq war. Blair arrived at the White House on Thursday night.
At a news conference after Friday's meeting, Bush stressed the importance of having Israeli and Palestinian states peacefully co-existing.
"I think it is fair to say that I believe we've got a great chance to establish a Palestinian state," Bush said. "And I intend to use the next four years to spend the capital of the United States on such a state."
Bush said that a free and democratic Palestinian state was in the best interests of the world and of the Palestinian people.
The president pledged to mobilize the international community to help revive the Palestinian economy, build up security institutions to fight terror, help the government fight corruption and overhaul the Palestinian political system and build democratic institutions.
"We seek a democratic, independent and viable state for the Palestinian people," Bush said. "We are committed to the security of Israel as a Jewish state. ... I look forward to working with the Palestinian leadership that is committed to fighting terror and committed to the cause of democratic reform."
Praising Blair as a "visionary leader," he said that "America's alliance with Britain has never been stronger."
Bush said the United States, Britain and their allies have made gains in Iraq and Afghanistan and said that he and Blair agreed on the importance of a broader Middle East peace.
Bush said he would work to improve trans-Atlantic ties and planned to travel to Europe soon after the start of his second term.
Blair said that bringing democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq were keys to defeating terrorism, along with "a lasting and just peace in the Middle East."
The Middle East peace process has taken on greater urgency after Thursday's death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Arafat was buried Friday in his presidential compound in Ramallah, West Bank. (Yasser Arafat buried in Ramallah)
Both Bush and Blair expressed optimism about the outcome of Palestinian elections to choose Arafat's successor.
"The bottom line has got to be that if you want to secure Israel and you want a viable Palestinian state, those are two states living side by side and they are democratic states living side by side. And we've got the chance over the next few months, with the election of a new Palestinian president, to put the first marker down on that," Blair said.
Last week, in congratulating the president on his victory over Democratic Sen. John Kerry, Blair called the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the world's "single most pressing political challenge."
The Bush administration had refused to deal with Arafat, saying the Palestinian Authority president failed to crack down on militant groups that the United States considers terrorist organizations.
President warns of more violence in Iraq
Speaking about Iraq, Bush said violence could escalate there as the country's scheduled elections approach in January.
"British, Americans and other coalition forces are helping provide stability that is necessary for free elections" in Iraq, he said.
"And U.N. officials are helping the Iraqi people prepare for those elections," Bush said. "As those elections draw near, the desperation of the killers will grow and the violence could escalate. Success of democracy in Iraq will be a crushing blow to the forces of terror, and the terrorists know it."
Blair's unwavering support of Bush's Iraq policy has come with political cost in Britain, where many in the prime minister's Labor Party opposed the war. It has also put the British leader in the middle between the United States and Bush's European critics.
The two leaders also spoke Friday about the provisional agreement between Iran and members of the European Union. Britain, Germany and France have been trying to persuade Tehran to suspend its nuclear enrichment activities in exchange for improved trade and political relations. Bush said he supported those negotiations.
The United States has warned Iran that if no agreement is reached, its nuclear program will be referred to the U.N. Security Council at the next meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors.
In announcing the meeting with Blair last week, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said it was part of Bush's effort to reach out to Europeans "to promote development and progress, to defeat the terrorists and to encourage freedom and democracy as alternatives to tyranny and terror."
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visited Bush at the White House on Wednesday. (Bush meets with NATO chief)