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Archive for Thursday, May 29, 2003

Bush to take peace plan on the road

Meetings with Israelis, Palestinians planned

May 29, 2003

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— President Bush thrust himself deeper into the Mideast peace process Wednesday, arranging to meet in Jordan next week with the prime ministers of Israel and the Palestinians and planning to attend a separate summit in Egypt with Arab leaders.

Yasser Arafat -- not invited to either meeting -- remained a wild card.

The longtime PLO leader's attempts to inject himself into the process threatened to undermine Bush's efforts to deal exclusively with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"The president has been unequivocal about who he's working with because his focus is on working with people who are dedicated to peace," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Bush's Middle East diplomacy represents his most direct involvement yet in attempting to end years of violence and to build support for a U.S.-backed peace plan that envisions an independent Palestinian state as early as 2005.

After visits to Poland, Russia and a Group of Eight summit of industrial democracies in Evian, France, Bush will make three stops in the Middle East, White House officials announced.

On Tuesday, he will meet with Arab leaders at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik. The following day he will go to the Jordanian Port City of Aqaba, meeting first with Jordan's King Abdullah II and then, separately, with Sharon and Abbas. If things go well, then he, Sharon and Abbas will meet jointly.

His proposed three-way meeting with Abbas and Sharon would take place the following day in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba, where Bush also will meet separately with Jordan's King Abdullah II.

Bush's final stop will be a June 5 visit to U.S. troops in Doha, Qatar, the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command -- from where the Iraq war was run. Bush will not visit U.S. troops in Iraq, Fleischer said.

When he meets in Egypt with Arab leaders, Bush "expects a solid expression of support" for the peace plan, Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

The summit of Arab leaders was organized by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In Cairo, Mubarak said he also invited Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Moroccan King Mohammed VI, Jordan's Abdullah, and Abbas.

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