Bush ends tour optimistic on peace

US president "positive" on Israeli-Palestinian peace as Israel bombs Gaza.

    Bush praised Egypt's involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian issue [AFP]

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    Bush arrived in Egypt from Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, and headed straight into talks with Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, on a three-hour visit.
    In a news conference speech on the final leg of his eight day tour of the Middle East, Bush

    called for Arab leaders to support Fouad Siniora,

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    Lebanon's prime minister, and said that "nations in the neighbourhood" were willing to help Israelis and Palestinians reach a peace deal.

    "It's important to encourage the holding of immediate and unconditional presidential elections according to the Lebanese constitution," Bush said.

    "And to make it clear to Syria, Iran and their allies they must end their interference and efforts to undermine the process."

    He also said Iraq's government "isn't perfect" but "progress" was being made on political reconciliation.

    Bush said that he was entirely committed to a solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and would return to the Middle East.


    "There's a wonder, whether or not the American president, when he says something, whether he actually means it," Bush said.

    In video

    The presidential visit

    "When I say I'm coming back to stay engaged, I mean it ...

    When I say I'm optimistic I can get a deal done, I mean what I'm saying."

    Mubarak, speaking alongside Bush, endorsed US hopes for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan concluding before the end of 2008, and said he will work hand in hand with the US and other nations.

    "The Palestinian issue is at the heart of conflict in the Middle East, and a gateway to containing all tension and the terrorism the world has been facing," Mubarak said.

    Amr El-Kahky, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Sharm el Sheikh, said that while both Mubarak and Bush were using positive language about the conclusion of a peace deal, their words did not represent the dismay on the streets of region, in the wake of the Israeli raids into Gaza which killed 18 Palestinians on Tuesday.

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    Bush urged greater political openness in Egypt, but did not directly criticise the Egyptian government for what the US has previously noted as a lack of political freedoms.

    El-Kahky said that Bush referred to Egypt discreetly during his tour, by saying that he was concerned about countries in the region that throw opposition leaders and presidential candidates into jail.
    At Sharm el Sheikh, however, Bush talked about Egypt's "vibrant civil society", and praised Egyptian women's role in society and the booming Egyptian economy.

    Gathering support
    Bush has been on a tour of the Middle East to gather Arab support both for his declared goal of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the time he leaves office in January 2009, as well as in Washington's stand-off with Iran.
    Relations with Egypt have taken a downturn over Washington's criticism of Cairo's perceived failure to secure its border with the Gaza Strip, now run by the Hamas movement, regarded as a "terror group" by Israel and the West.


    Bush flew in from Saudi Arabia after having breakfast with members of the royal family at a ranch belonging to King Abdullah outside Riyadh.


    Bush used his two-day visit to the world's biggest oil producer to press for increased output to help ease recession fears at home, saying the "very high" prices were tough on the US economy.


    Opec is due to meet in Vienna on February 1 under pressure to calm prices which hit $100 a barrel at the start of the year.

    Egyptians protested againt Bush in Cairo [AFP]


    But Bush faced difficulty in convincing his Saudi hosts to wholeheartedly support the twin pillars of his tour - greater backing for the Middle East peace process and a willingness to confront the "threat" of Iran.


    Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, gave a cool response to Bush's call for Arab countries "reach out" to Israel, which has only signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.


    "I don't know what more outreach we can give to the Israelis," he told a press conference with Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state.


    On Iran, al-Faisal said: "Iran is a neighbouring country, an important country in the region. Naturally we have nothing bad against Iran."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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