Bush expresses optimism over Middle East peace conference

By Xinhua

Washington : President George W. Bush expressed optimism about a U.S.-hosted Middle East conference in Annapolis, Maryland, when meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Edhud Olmert at the White House on Monday.

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“I’m looking forward to continuing our serious dialogue with you and the president of the Palestinian authority to see whether or not peace is possible,” Bush told Olmert at the Oval Office. “I’m optimistic, I know you’re optimistic.”

Olmert expressed his appreciation for the international efforts to make Israel and Palestine “sit together” and “work out something that will be very good and create great hope for our peoples.”

“This time it’s different because we are going to have lots of participants in what I hope will launch a serious process of negotiations between us and the Palestinians,” Olmert said. “This will be a bilateral process, but international support is very important for us.”

The meeting kicked off a series of diplomatic warm-up for the Annapolis conference, followed by another meeting between Bush and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, and State Secretary Condoleezza Rice’s meeting with Palestinian and Israeli chief negotiators in the afternoon.

A joint Palestinian-Israeli document is due to be released later Monday.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev told reporters earlier that important progress has been made by the two sides in the drafting of the joint document with the outline of a solution to the Middle East conflict.

The schedule was confirmed by Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo, saying that the joint document would also set out the contours of future negotiations.

“This document … will determine the terms of reference for negotiations — such as the roadmap and international resolutions — and the modalities for negotiations after Annapolis,” he said.

More than 50 countries and organizations — including some 16 Arab nations — will attend the Annapolis conference on Tuesday, which is being seen as a new round of U.S. efforts to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks seven years after the last one with the aim at the creation of a Palestinian state by January, 2009 when Bush’s second term ends.

According to president’s national security adviser Stephen Hadley, Bush will open the Annapolis conference with a speech to make clear that Mideast peace is a top priority for the rest of his presidency.

However, the Bush administration’s glaring, but temporary, effort to improve worsening Middle East situation is regarded by many, especially Arabs too late. They said that the White House is driven, above all, by the need to improved a presidential image badly tarnished by the U.S.-led Iraq war.

The expectation on the conference remains low partly because the gaps between Palestinian and Israeli different objects towards the joint document are hardly to be bridged despite Rice’s eight missions to the region this year.