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Bush Looks Forward to Separate Meetings with Sharon, Abbas

  • Meredith Buel

Asked by reporters about renewed hope for success in the Middle East peace process, President Bush says he is impressed by newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who Mr. Bush says comes to the negotiating table with a mandate from a large number of Palestinians.

"He has been through an election, he was endorsed by the Palestinian people. Secondly, any meeting is part of a process, because in order to achieve the objective of two states living side-by-side in peace, there needs to be a level of trust between all parties, all parties being obviously Israel and the Palestinians, but trust with the United States, trust with the United Nations, trust with Europe, trust with the parties who are going to be investing in a Palestinian state for example," he said.

President Bush says he looks forward to separate meetings in the coming months with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Abbas.

His remarks came on the same day that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that both leaders have accepted invitations to the White House.

Both Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas are holding a summit Tuesday in Egypt, where they are expected to announce a formal cease-fire designed to end more than four-and-a-half years of violence.

After a Cabinet meeting at the White House, Mr. Bush singled out Mr. Abbas' commitment to ending Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis, and the Israelis for facilitating the Palestinian elections.

"I have been impressed by his public statements, I have also been impressed by the fact that Israel helped the Palestinians have an election, went out of their way to make sure people were allowed to go to the polls," said Mr. Bush. "The meetings just indicate there is more work to be done, and I look forward to meeting with them."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the separate visits of Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas to Washington are expected to occur in March or April.