Washington President Bush told the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian territories on Wednesday he is personally committed to their mission of peace, urging them to stick with it and not lose sight of their goal.
Bush met separately with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the White House, and then with the two men jointly before the trio emerged for a presidential send-off from the Rose Garden. The stagecraft capped three days of U.S.-sponsored diplomacy centered on an international Mideast peace conference held Tuesday in Annapolis, Md.
"No matter how important yesterday was, it's not nearly as important as tomorrow and the days beyond," Bush said, with Olmert on one side and Abbas on the other.
"I wouldn't be standing here if I didn't believe that peace was possible," the president said.
The Bush administration pronounced itself pleased with the outcome of the conference. It drew 44 nations, including Israel's neighboring Arab states whose support is considered vital to any peace agreement.
A joint understanding between the Israelis and Palestinians, in doubt until the last minute, was salvaged. And Abbas and Olmert reiterated their desire to reach a peace settlement by the end of next year.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Wednesday confirmed that Russia has offered to host a follow-up conference, but he said no agreement had been reached. He called the Russian offer generous and said the United States would discuss how to follow up on the Annapolis conference in coming weeks.