Bush Vows to Stay Engaged in Peacemaking Effort
President Bush promised Wednesday to stay engaged in pulling Israelis and Palestinians toward a peace pact by the end of his term in January 2009.
The president has been met by Arab skepticism during his eight-day trip to the Mideast, but he got a boost from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during his final stop.
Mubarak said he would work hand-in-hand with the U.S. on a deal to create an independent Palestinian state. "I also said that I wish that he will reach a peace agreement before the end of his term," Mubarak said, through a translator.
Mubarak Pledges Support
He said he stressed to Bush that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is at the core of the turmoil in the region.
"We are keen on supporting peace efforts," Mubarak said. "We are ready, hand-in-hand with the United States of America," and others to work for the "sake of a comprehensive and just peace, to put an end to this Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to open new horizons for the Middle East for a more peaceful and secure future."
Bush said he will return to the Middle East in May to push the process forward.
"When I say I'm coming back to stay engaged, I mean it," said Bush. "When I say I'm optimistic we can get a deal done, I mean what I'm saying."
Bush said he is convinced that leaders in both Israel and the West Bank are committed to a two-state solution.
Mubarak, Bush Meet
"I know nations in the neighborhood are willing to help, particularly yourself," Bush told Mubarak.
Standing alongside Mubarak, Bush urged greater political openness in Egypt, but did not directly criticize the Egyptian government for what the U.S. sees as a lack of political freedoms. Bush praised Egypt for taking some steps toward democratic reform, but said more was needed.
"My hope is that the Egyptian government will build on these important steps."
The Egyptian government has waged a heavy crackdown on its strongest domestic opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting hundreds of the Islamic fundamentalist group's members, as well as some secular opponents.
And Bush did not mention prominent jailed political opponent Ayman Nour, whose case U.S. officials have pledged to raise with the Egyptians every time they meet. The State Department called Nour's 2006 trial on election-related charges a miscarriage of justice.
Support for Lebanon
Wrapping up his journey, which included a side trip to Baghdad by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Bush said the fragile Iraqi government was making progress on political reconciliation.
"The government isn't perfect, but nevertheless, progress is being made," he said, pledging U.S. support for Iraqi security and democracy.
Bush, who left Egypt after his remarks to return to Washington, also expressed support for the weak U.S.-backed government in Lebanon, and called on Syria and Iran to stop interfering in Beirut.
"We agreed it's important for nations in this region to support Prime Minister [Fuad] Saniora," Bush said. "It's important to encourage the holding of immediate, unconditional presidential elections according to the Lebanese constitution and to make it clear to Syria, Iran and their allies they must end their interference and efforts to undermine the process."
From NPR reports and The Associated Press
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