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Korei set to be Palestinian PM if conditions met
( 2003-09-09 08:54) (Agencies)

Ahmed Korei, Yasser Arafat's nominee for Palestinian prime minister, said Monday he would accept the post if he won U.S. and European guarantees of support and Israel's commitment to ease a military crackdown.

The Palestinian president chose parliamentary speaker Korei to replace Mahmoud Abbas, who quit Saturday after four months in power, leaving a U.S. backed peace plan hanging in the balance.

"Abu Ala (Korei) said that in principle he has no objection but he doesn't want to face the same Israeli obstacles that Abu Mazen (Abbas) has faced," presidential aide Nabil Abu Rdeinah said as Arafat and Korei met in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Korei, an architect of 1993 interim peace accords with Israel, was still considering Arafat's offer late Monday and was expected to continue talks with Arafat Tuesday.

Korei, 65, said he did not want to set himself up to repeat Abbas's failures but Palestinian officials expected him to formally accept the post in coming days.

Abbas said he quit because Arafat and Israel obstructed his peace moves and the United States gave him too little backing.

The European Union swiftly voiced support for Korei, a moderate former peace negotiator, but Israel and the United States were more cautious.

The United States hopes that resolving the long-running Palestinian political crisis will help salvage the peace "road map" which sets out steps to end violence and create a Palestinian state, but critics say it may be beyond repair.

Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters he expected Korei would end up as the new prime minister.

"We hope that whoever the prime minister is ... he will make a commitment to fight terrorism and I hope that he will be given the political authority, the security forces and financial assets that are needed to undertake this task," he said.


Abbas failed to persuade Arafat to cede control of all Palestinian security forces. He did not crack down on militants spearheading a nearly three-year uprising against Israeli occupation, although he is obliged to do so under the road map.

At Arafat's West Bank compound where Korei's nomination was approved Sunday night, the Palestinian president patted him on the shoulder and said -- jokingly, according to those present: "May God assist you with this disaster."

Recognizing the difficulties he faces, Korei -- a shrewd, veteran politician but one with little grassroots support -- set strict conditions for accepting the job.

"I want to see the Americans -- what kind of guarantee ... they will (give)," he told Reuters at his West Bank office. "I want to see Europe, what kind of guarantees and support ... they will (give). I'm not ready to go for a failure."

Korei said he also wanted a commitment from Israel to curb military operations in Palestinian areas and stop isolating Arafat and called for an end to killings on both sides.

Israel has stepped up attacks to kill militants since a suicide bombing killed 22 Israelis on Aug. 19.


Israel has ruled out talks with any new leadership controlled or hand-picked by Arafat and said the Palestinian Authority must "dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism."

"Israel will wait and examine the Palestinian prime minister according to his action," a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman quoted Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom as saying.

There was no immediate reaction from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who left on a four-day visit to India.

Health Minister Danny Naveh, who belongs to Sharon's rightist Likud party, said Korei's appointment would not bring renewed dialogue because "the man pulling the strings and controlling everything is one person, Yasser Arafat."

In Brussels, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Korei was highly respected by the bloc and "will get all support from the European Union."

The United States was an enthusiastic supporter of Abbas when he took office in April. It saw him as a welcome alternative to Arafat, whom it had ostracized since June 2002.

But the State Department was more cautious about Korei than it was about Abbas. Powell said: "We have to see what political authority and what security forces will be under the new prime minister."

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