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Bush To Push For Peace Efforts During Mideast Trip

Bush To Push for Mideast Peace in Regional Visit

United States committed to promoting democracy, countering extremism

Washington -- Setting out for the Middle East, President Bush hopes to build on the success of the November 2007 Annapolis Conference to keep up momentum toward a two-state solution for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the end of 2008.

"What you see in the Middle East right now is a struggle between extremists and those who have a more hopeful vision for the future of the Middle East," National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley says. "The extremists have made clear that they view democracy, and those people who try to build it, as enemy Number 1."

The January 8-16 trip will be Bush's first official visits to Israel and the West Bank, and will also include stops in Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Seizing An Opportunity For Mideast Peace

A major priority during Bush's visit, as well as in his administration's final year in office, Hadley said, will be continuing efforts to support Palestinian and Israeli leaders as they restart peace talks in the wake of the November 2007 Annapolis Conference, where both sides announced their intention to conclude a peace treaty by the end of 2008. (See related article.)

"This trip is an opportunity for [Bush] to show his own personal commitment, by going to the region and hearing from the parties directly, and encourage them to seize the opportunity that is before them," Hadley said at a January 3 briefing.

Bush became the first U.S. president to call for the creation of a Palestinian state, Hadley said. Since then, U.S. support for Israel's disengagement from Gaza and the rise of new Palestinian leadership that rejects violence have converged in a new opportunity to move the peace process forward.

Bush will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad as they begin the process of confronting the thorniest challenges at the heart of half a century of conflict. They will discuss the borders of a new Palestinian state, the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees, security guarantees to safeguard people on both sides of the border, equitable distribution of scarce water resources, the status of Israeli outposts and settlements and the status of Jerusalem, Hadley said.

In addition, Hadley said, both sides have committed to implementing confidence-building diplomatic steps outlined in a "road map" developed by the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the United States -- known collectively as the Quartet. The comprehensive plan to resolve political, economic, security and humanitarian issues to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been around for several years, but in Annapolis, Israelis and Palestinians also took a new step forward by coming together to request that the United States take on a new role as "monitor and judge" of their progress.

A third challenge, Hadley said, is building continued international support for the creation of a prosperous, democratic Palestinian state capable of living peacefully beside Israel. Following Annapolis, 90 nations and international organizations met in Paris, pledging $7.4 billion to support a comprehensive Palestinian Reform and Development Plan.

On January 11, Hadley said, Bush will get an update on these efforts from Quartet Special Representative and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is working with the Palestinian Authority as it builds the framework for a future state.

During his visit, Hadley said, Bush also will recognize democratic progress across the region and appeal to leaders for further reforms, which the United States views as an essential step in countering terrorism and promoting greater regional security.

"We think that is what most of the people in the region want, a normal life, in which they can take more responsibility for themselves," Hadley said. "That is going to be the president's message -- and also the things he's willing to do and the policies he's pursuing to do that -- support of the government in Iraq, supporting of the Siniora government in Lebanon, a willingness to support actively the Israeli-Palestinian process."


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