INTRO: The Bush administration says it is ready to help the newly elected Palestinian leadership as it moves toward democracy and reform. V-O-A's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House.
TEXT: On the day Palestinians went to the polls to choose a successor to the late Yasser Arafat, Secretary of State Colin Powell went on American television and talked about prospects for peace in the region.
On A-B-C's This Week, he said the United States stands ready to help the Palestinians by increasing development aid and supporting political reform efforts.
"We can help the new Palestinian President, and the new leaders of the Palestinian Authority reform their government to make it more efficient and less corrupt."
Mr. Powell noted that President Bush had often spoken of the old Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat as an obstacle to peace. The secretary of state said after a new government is in place, the United States will seek to revive the framework for peace talks commonly known as the road map.
Also sounding a hopeful note Sunday was Dennis Ross - one of America's best known Mideast peace negotiators. In an interview that aired just hours before polls closed in the Palestinian election, Mr. Ross said he sees a window of opportunity following the death of Yasser Arafat.
"One of the most striking things that people have not noted enough is that he died and the Palestinian public became optimistic. That is an amazing reality to take note of."
Dennis Ross told the C-B-S program Face the Nation that optimism shows the Palestinians want change and an end to chaos. He said he agrees with the hopes expressed by former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, the front-runner going into the election.
"I believe there is a chance, first, to stop the daily war between Israelis and Palestinians, manage the withdrawal of the Israelis from Gaza and use that as a basis to get back to the permanent status issues so that you can get back to peacemaking. There is an opportunity here, but it won't last long."
As indications began to emerge of a decisive victory for Mahmoud Abbas, members of an election monitoring team from the U.S. Senate spoke to C-N-N's Late Edition program from Jerusalem. Senator Joseph Biden - the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee - said the new Palestinian leader will have a tough job.
"He understands the genuine need for reform if his party, Fatah. He knows there is a genuine need for reform of what was the Palestinian Authority. He has to consolidate the security forces."
Senator Biden went on to indicate that he believes Mahmoud Abbas is up to the task. He said he is very impressed by what he has seen so far but added America is watching closely to see if the new Palestinian leader can actually produce results.