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Bush Administration Previews Trip to Middle East


The Bush administration is providing details of the president's planned nine-day trip to the Middle East, beginning Tuesday. The trip will include his first visit to Israel and the West Bank since taking office in 2001, and stops in Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. VOA's Carolyn Presutti previews the trip.

On Thursday in Gaza, just five days before President Bush visits the Middle East, nine Palestinians were killed and 30 wounded as Israeli tanks battled militants. Israel says it struck in retaliation for Palestinian rocket attacks.

The violence counters gains achieved at a Mideast peace conference near Washington late last year.

U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley plans to travel with Mr. Bush. "Those people who promote extremism and use the institution of terror are going to try to obstruct progress because if it works, it leads to a peaceful Palestine, living side by side with a peaceful Israel and they do not want that," Hadley said.

While in the Mideast, the president will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem. Mr. Bush told Reuters news service on Thursday that he will urge Israel to dismantle unauthorized settlements. Hadley says that during the president's many stops he also will seek support for U.S. policies toward Iraq, Lebanon and Iran.

"The president will go and talk privately and quietly and indicate [that] we understand the challenge Iran represents,” Hadley told the press, “and then friends and allies can count on our commitment to the region."

Analysts with the private Center for Strategic and International Studies say the president's goals are too ambitious. Jon Alterman is the director of the center's Mideast program. He told us, "President Bush is no longer trying to transform the Middle East from afar. He is trying to manage it in incremental ways by arm-twisting and jawboning [trying to persuade] leaders in small private sessions. There will be small successes along the way, but all the problems are far too immense and diverse to be solved on this trip."

The organization says the current U.S. presidential race also could be a stumbling block. The center's Anthony Cordesman said, "So they [Mideast leaders] not only face the problem of a president who isn't staying, but also vast uncertainty about the U.S. and a [new] president who really won't have his team in office until 2009."

Violence in the Middle East has stymied the peace efforts of a long line of American presidents. There have been some successes, notably Jimmy Carter's historic peace accord between Israel and Egypt. But there is still no two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. President Bush says he hopes to achieve that before leaving office in a year.

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