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Bush, Olmert Discuss Peace, Regional Security


The search for Middle East peace and the threat to regional security posed by Iran's nuclear intentions topped the agenda when President Bush met Tuesday with the new Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert.

Prime Minister Olmert came to the White House hoping to win support for his plan to set new borders for the West Bank if negotiations with the Palestinians remain stalled.

President Bush appeared intrigued with the plan, but he stopped short of a full endorsement.

"Today, Prime Minister Olmert shared with me some of his ideas - I would call them bold ideas," said President Bush. "These ideas could lead to a two state solution if a pathway to progress on the road map is not open in the period ahead."

The president stressed he believes the best path to peace remains a negotiated settlement. He urged Israel to reach out to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and he called once again on the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority to change its ways.

"Hamas needs to make a strategic choice for peace," he said. "The United States and the international community have made clear that Hamas must recognize Israel's right to exist, must abandon terror, and must accept all previous agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel."

Speaking at a joint news conference after the first round of their White House talks, Prime Minister Olmert said he hopes to meet with President Abbas soon. But he said the rise of Hamas in parliamentary elections has complicated matters.

"Despite our sincere desire for negotiation, we cannot wait indefinitely for the Palestinians to change," said Ehud Olmert. "We cannot be held hostage by a terrorist entity which refuses to change or to promote dialogue. If we come to the conclusion that no progress is possible, we will be compelled to try a different route."

The prime minister's plan calls for relinquishing some small Israeli settlements, annexing major ones, and unilaterally redrawing the borders of the West Bank.

President Bush said it warrants further study, adding Mr. Olmert wants a two-state solution and sees unilateral action as a last resort.

"In order to solve this problem there needs to be willingness to take the lead and creativity and the desire to follow through on the vision," he said. "The most important aspect of peace is to have a vision for peace."

The other key issue on the agenda for the White House talks was Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

Prime Minister Olmert, who has been pushing strong international pressure on Tehran, called Iran a major threat. President Bush said once again that Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, and that he aims to resolve the matter peacefully and diplomatically.

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