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Blair Launches Mideast Peace Mission


Mr. Blair opened his visit in Jerusalem, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. At a joint news conference, the British Prime Minister said they discussed shoring up the fragile cease-fire in Lebanon and reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"The majority of people here, I'm sure, want to see what the majority of people in my country want to see, which is a Middle East that is stable, and democratic, with people living side by side in peace. It is very easy to be pessimistic in the light of everything that has happened recently, but I do believe that with good will and the right leadership it can be done," he said.

Mr. Blair also plans to visit the West Bank for talks with moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Israeli Prime Minister said he is ready to hold his first summit with Mr. Abbas to discuss the internationally-backed "road map" peace plan. "I remain dedicated to advancing to the political process with the Palestinians according to the road map, starting with implementation of the first phase which calls for the dismantling of the terrorist organizations and their infrastructure," he said.

But Mr. Olmert said there could be no progress until the crisis over a kidnapped Israeli soldier is resolved. The 19-year-old corporal was captured by militants from the ruling Hamas movement more than two months ago, and is being held in the Gaza Strip. "The issue that is our first priority with the Palestinians, naturally, is the immediate release of Corporal Gilad Shalit," he added.

The two leaders also discussed Iran and vowed to prevent that country from acquiring a nuclear bomb. "Our position remains as it's been throughout, which is to make sure that the will of the international community, in respect of Iran's nuclear weapons aspirations, is properly adhered to," he said.

Israel has grown increasingly alarmed about Iran's nuclear program since last October, when the Iranian president threatened to wipe the Jewish state "off the map."

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