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Bush urges optimism on Mideast

Don't lose sight of goals, he tells Abbas and Olmert in a sendoff.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published November 29, 2007


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WASHINGTON - President Bush told the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian territories on Wednesday he is committed to their mission of peace, urging them to not lose sight of their goal.

Bush met separately with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and then with the two men jointly before they emerged for a sendoff from the Rose Garden. The stagecraft capped three days of U.S.-sponsored diplomacy centered around a peace conference Tuesday in Annapolis, Md.

"No matter how important yesterday was, it's not nearly as important as tomorrow and the days beyond," Bush said, with Olmert on one side and Abbas on the other.

"I wouldn't be standing here if I didn't believe that peace was possible," the president said.

The administration pronounced itself pleased with the outcome of the conference. It drew 44 nations, including neighboring Arab states. A joint understanding between the Israelis and Palestinians, in doubt until the last minute, was salvaged. And Abbas and Olmert reiterated their desire to reach a peace settlement by the end of next year.

Olmert, for his part, reiterated at a briefing with Israeli reporters that a peace deal could not be implemented until the violence against Israel from Gaza stops. A deal, he said, won't be implemented until conditions crucial to Israel are met.

Bush and Abbas did discuss Hamas, though White House press secretary Dana Perino would not reveal details. The militant faction took power in the Gaza Strip in June, effectively splitting Palestinian rule between Hamas in the tiny coastal territory and Abbas' Fatah party in the West Bank.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tapped James L. Jones, a retired Marine general and NATO commander, as a special envoy for Middle East security.

The job involves monitoring the development of Palestinian security services, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. One focus would be how those forces interact with neighboring security services, including Israeli authorities.

[Last modified November 29, 2007, 02:26:52]


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