JERUSALEM -- In his first-ever discussion with a Palestinian Authority official, President Bush said statehood is a prerequisite for ending Palestinian suffering, the official said Saturday.
Bush met several times with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon but has refused to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat or his aides, calling his regime corrupt and linked to terror. In a June speech, Bush called for Arafat's ouster.
The conversation between Bush and Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian minister for international cooperation and planning, was Thursday during a reception Bush held for heads of state and representatives in New York, where the U.N. General Assembly is meeting.
Shaath said the two spoke for about seven minutes. He said Bush reiterated his support for an independent and economically viable Palestinian state.
"Bush told me he meant every word, that this was the minimum that the Palestinian people deserved, that there can be no end to the suffering of the Palestinian people without achieving this independent state," Shaath said.
Shaath and the Palestinian representative to the U.N., Nasser el Kidwa, received a last-minute invitation to attend the reception, Shaath said.
A U.S. official in Jerusalem, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush wants to maintain a dialogue with the Palestinians to make sure reforms take place in the Palestinian Authority.
Israeli officials declined to comment on the meeting.
On Tuesday, the so-called Quartet -- senior officials from the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia -- will meet in New York to review Palestinian reform efforts and progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian truce.