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Bush Talks with Palestinian and Israeli PMs

Washington File: Bush Talks with Palestinian and Israeli Prime Ministers

(In separate phone calls May 20 president urges steps toward peace) (920)

By Wendy S. Ross - Washington File White House Correspondent

Washington File: President Bush began his day May 20 by placing a phone call to new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas -- the first time he has spoken to him, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.

The two had "friendly and hopeful" discussions, Fleischer said.

Asked why Bush decided to make this phone call at this time, Fleischer said "it was a combination of the fact that the president was looking forward to talking to him because he sees him as a hopeful leader in the Palestinian people," and "it's also the timing of the recent violence. The president thought it might be constructive to have this conversation with the Palestinian prime minister," who also is known as Abu Mazen.

President Bush "views Abu Mazen as a new leader," Fleischer said. "He has just come into office," and the new terrorist attacks are threats to him.

"He's not the first new leader in the world to be greeted with terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, these terrorist attacks took Israeli lives, but they represent a threat to the Palestinian people, as well," Fleischer said, referring to the recent suicide bombings in Israel that have killed a reported 12 Israelis and wounded many more.

In their phone conversation, Bush "reiterated his commitment" to his vision of a Palestinian state and an Israeli state living side by side in peace and in security, Fleischer said.

The President "reiterated the absolute need for all parties to fight terror," stressed the need for all parties to take concrete steps, and called for cooperative efforts between all Arab parties and Israel to create the conditions for peace and security in the Middle East, Fleischer said.

Bush reiterated his commitment to the security of the state of Israel and said he looked forward to a future meeting with the new Palestinian prime minister, Fleischer said.

The Palestinian prime minister told Bush that "he was committed to reform, to peace, and to ending all acts of terror, and he thanked President Bush for the call," Fleischer said.

Bush also spoke by phone later in the day May 20 with Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and informed him of his phone call with Abu Mazen, Fleischer reported. Bush told Sharon "that he believes Abu Mazen is a reformer who will work for peace," Fleischer said.

Bush also offered his condolences to the people of Israel following the recent homicide bombings there and told Sharon he understands why the Israeli prime minister postponed his scheduled May 20 visit to Washington. Bush said he looks forward to a rescheduled meeting with the prime minister, Fleischer reported.

Bush also talked with Sharon about the importance of finding a way to peace in the Middle East through the U.S.-led international "road map" for peace, "so that Abu Mazen can be successful," the press secretary said.

Bush made clear to the Israeli prime minister that the United States and Bush himself "are committed to the security of Israel."

Prime Minister Sharon "thanked President Bush for his courage and his leadership," Fleischer said.

Bush "has a long-term view of how to bring peace to the Middle East. He will not be deterred by the current terrorist bombings," Fleischer said. "He understands it will present a slowdown, a delay in this meeting, a bump on the road, but it will not deter him, because he thinks there is no other choice," the press secretary said.

"Clearly, the first parties that are responsible are the Israelis and the Palestinians. They have to be the ones to work genuinely with each other, because that's where peace will be found. The United States' role is to lean very forward into that process to help make it happen, and that's what the president is doing."

Bush, Fleischer reiterated, thinks that Abu Mazen is "a reformer and somebody who will work for peace. He also thinks Ariel Sharon will work for peace. The key is to bring the two together so that peace can be achieved, despite the terrorist attacks.

"And this is why it's so important to stop the terrorist attacks, because they represent the greatest threat to Israeli security and to the prospects for peace," Fleischer said, noting that Sharon and Abu Mazen held a meeting over the weekend, despite the violence.

Asked about President Bush's personal involvement in the peace process, Fleischer said "if it hadn't been for the president's personal involvement there would not be a reformist-minded Palestinian prime minister today. There would still be a terrorist-minded leader of the Palestinian people. So that's a very helpful change that has taken place on the ground in the Palestinian institutions. More has to come, more needs to follow. All parties have responsibilities and the recent terrorist violence has, unfortunately, set back the timing of the meeting [between Bush and Sharon], but it has not set back the cause of peace."

President Bush, Fleischer added, "has hopes that peace can be accomplished because, one, Israel is a democracy and democracies yearn for peace. And, two, because Abu Mazen is a reformer, and the Palestinian people deserve a better life. That's what the president sees, and that's how he hopes it will happen. He's a realist, but he's determined to do everything in his power to make it happen."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)


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