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Aide: Bush in Israel to ‘encourage’ peace talks

JERUSALEM (CNN) — President Bush arrived in Israel Wednesday to spur the fragile Mideast peace process and, a top aide said, to encourage Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to stay focused.

On his first visit to Israel as president, Bush was welcomed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Later, after meeting with Peres, Bush said he came away with high hopes.

The role of the United States will be to foster a vision of peace, Bush said. The role of the Israeli leadership and the Palestinian leadership is going to do the hard work necessary to define a vision.

Peres told Bush The process may be slow, but the progress can be sweet. Watch more on Bush’s arrival

National security adviser Stephen Hadley expressed concern to reporters aboard Air Force One about distractions to the peace process. The Palestinians are very concerned, obviously, about settlements; the Israelis are very concerned, obviously, about the rocket attacks coming out of Gaza. These issues need to be addressed, said Hadley.

Bush will encourage the parties to get after it, to stay focused, said Hadley.

The president will hear from the parties on where their negotiations and their discussions are, he said. And I think he will say some words that are encouraging to the process, but I don’t think you’re going to see him jumping into the middle of these negotiations.

Bush and Olmert were to take questions at a 5:55 p.m. (10:55 a.m. ET) news conference at the prime minister’s residence.

On Thursday, Bush is scheduled to travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Laying the diplomatic groundwork before Bush’s arrival, Olmert and Abbas met Tuesday in Jerusalem and agreed to have their negotiating teams conduct direct and ongoing negotiations on all final status/core issues, Olmert’s spokesman told CNN.

Just prior to his departure from Washington Tuesday, Bush said he hopes to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree on clear definitions of a future independent Palestinian state.

They need to have a vision that competes with the terrorists and the killers who murder the innocent people to stop the advance of democracy, Bush said.

The president said he also intends to work with Arab friends and allies on this very issue and remind them of the strategy and obligations they have to help this vision become a reality.

Security was tight for Bush’s visit to the region. Large parts of Jerusalem as well as much of the West Bank, including Ramallah, will be, in effect, shut down.

Over the weekend, American al Qaeda member Adam Yahiye Gadahn released a videotape calling on the militant group’s followers to receive [Bush] not with flowers or clapping but with bombs and booby-trapped vehicles. Watch Gadahn’s ominous warning

More than 10,000 police will be deployed across the region to back U.S. federal officers in what is the largest security operation in Israel since Pope John Paul II’s visit in March 2000.

Security will also be heavy at a number of large demonstrations in Israel planned to protest Bush’s visit.

To minimize his exposure, Bush will do most of his traveling by helicopter, but some stops on in his itinerary, particularly in the West Bank, are reachable only by car and on foot. That, security analysts say, will be the most dangerous time for the president.

During his tour of the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority will aid U.S. security teams in protecting the president.

Bush is scheduled to depart Jerusalem on Friday for Kuwait. He will then head to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He returns to Washington next Wednesday.

A major challenge for Bush will be keeping the trip focused on Israeli-Palestinian peace while other issues — Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and soaring oil prices — dominate the media headlines and serve as reminders of the region’s instability.

Bush hopes to have a peace deal before he leaves office in a year, and both Abbas and Olmert agreed to work toward such an agreement at the November 27 U.S.-sponsored peace summit in Annapolis, Maryland.

Subsequent meetings between the Israeli and Palestinian delegations have been overshadowed by disagreements over Israel’s plans to expand settlements in disputed areas of the West Bank.

The efforts to restart serious peace talks have also been overshadowed by ongoing rocket assaults from Hamas-controlled Gaza that have prompted a heavy Israeli military response.

On Wednesday, Palestinian militants fired three Qassam rockets into the Israeli city of Sderot, damaging a house. After an earlier mortar attack, Israel launched an air strike on a rocket-launching cell, killing one militant and wounding six others.
found here.

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January 9, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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