WASHINGTON -- President Bush reaffirmed his commitment to "the evolution of a Palestinian state" on Thursday, and Secretary of State Colin Powell said Bush was considering interim statehood.
"It is an idea that has always been out there. ... The president has it under consideration," Powell said after a foreign ministers meeting in Whistler, British Columbia.
At the White House, Bush met with Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, and cautioned reporters afterward against guessing about his intentions for promoting an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
"I think it's probably wise for people not to spend a lot of time speculating. I'm going to lay out my vision at some point in time. It's going to be a vision that will help lead toward two states living side by side," Bush said.
"There's one thing for certain that I strongly believe and that is that we must build the institutions necessary for the evolution of a Palestinian state that can live peacefully in the region and provide hope for the suffering Palestinian people."
Powell, who floated the idea of an interim or provisional Palestinian state this week, said at a news conference the idea had surfaced "on both sides" -- implying Israel and the Arabs both were interested in provisional statehood.
"The president has it under consideration," he said.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said that the idea was "more or less" like one he and Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia had already worked out but that they did not call it a provisional state.
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., released a letter she had sent Bush to oppose any Palestinian state while Israel is under terror attack.
"U.S. support for a Palestinian state at this time would have the effect of rewarding the terrorism and violence which the Palestinian Authority continues to perpetrate against Israel," she said.
Powell also said the administration had "an obligation" to deal with Yasser Arafat but with other Palestinian leaders, as well. This week, Powell reaffirmed his view that Arafat is the legitimate leader of the Palestinians and openly disagreed with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's contention that Arafat was an unreliable peace partner.
Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, the president's assistant for national security, and some senior State Department officials all are known to be highly skeptical of Arafat.