Bush trip today aims to push Mideast peace

9 01 2008

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President George W. Bush headed to the Middle East on Tuesday, aiming to nurture Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts in the face of deep skepticism while trying to rally Arab opposition to Iran.

Once wary of hands-on Middle East diplomacy, Bush will make his first presidential visit to Israel and the West Bank in a bid to shore up fragile negotiations aimed at forging a peace treaty by the end of the year.

The chances of a deal before Bush leaves office in January 2009 appear slim, and no breakthroughs are expected during three days of talks following up on an international conference he hosted in Annapolis, Maryland, in November.

But in Israel and Arab countries that Bush will visit during his weeklong tour, Iran and its growing regional influence will also loom large.

Bush hopes to enlist Arab support to help contain Iran, a goal underscored by a confrontation between American and Iranian vessels in the Strait of Hormuz over the weekend.

On the first leg of his trip, Bush will nudge Israelis and Palestinians to move forward in talks already bogged down in recriminations since their leaders pledged at Annapolis to try to reach a two-state deal in 2008.

“What has to happen in order for there to be a peaceful settlement of a long-standing dispute is … outlines of a state clearly defined,” Bush said at the White House. “So that at some point in time, the Palestinians who agree that Israel ought to exist and agree that the state ought to live side-by-side with Israel in peace have something to be for.”

But doubts remain about the seriousness of Bush’s commitment, his ability to act as an even-handed broker and his chance of succeeding where so many predecessors have failed.

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