Bush, leaders voice optimism about Mideast peace prospects | PostIndependent.com

Bush, leaders voice optimism about Mideast peace prospects

Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON (AP) ” Hours before the opening of a high-stakes international conference on the Middle East, President Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed hope Monday that peace finally could be achieved. A senior member of the Palestinian delegation said an elusive joint statement on the contours for future talks was within reach.

The three leaders offered hopeful words, but their statements also hinted at the serious divisions that exist over the best path to peace. Olmert and Abbas met separately with Bush at the White House.

“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. I’m optimistic,” Bush said at Olmert’s side. Later, after a similar meeting with Abbas, Bush said, “We want to help you. We want there to be peace. We want the people in the Palestinian territories to have hope.”

Olmert said that international support ” from Bush and also, presumably, from the Arab nations that will attend the conference ” “is very important to us” and could make all the difference.

“This time, it’s different because we are going to have a lot of participation in what I hope will launch a serious process of negotiations between us and the Palestinians,” Olmert said, referring to the talks expected to begin in earnest after this week’s U.S.-hosted meetings.

For his part, Abbas stressed when he appeared with Bush the need for talks to address key issues of Palestinian statehood, sticky discussions that have doomed previous peace efforts.

“We have a great deal of hope that this conference will produce permanent status negotiations, expanded negotiations, over all permanent status issues that would lead to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people,” he said. “This is a great initiative and we need his (Bush’s) continuing effort to achieve this objective.”

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