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Bush Says Now Is Time for Mideast Peace


President Bush says the time is right for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and both sides have tough choices to make. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports from Jerusalem, where Mr. Bush is urging Israeli leaders to move the peace process forward.

President Bush says he sees an historic opportunity for peace.

Standing side-by-side with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the president said he traveled to the region because he feels progress is possible.

"It is my considered judgment that people now understand the stakes and the opportunity. And our job, Mr. Prime Minister, is to help you meet that opportunity," said Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush stressed he will not dictate a settlement. He said that would be a recipe for failure.

"The only way to have lasting peace - the only way for an agreement to mean anything is for the two parties to come together and make the difficult choices," he added. "But we will help."

Prime Minister Olmert urged him to start by putting pressure on the Palestinian Authority to take action to thwart terrorist attacks on Israel. He noted there was a rocket attack earlier in the day on an Israeli town near Gaza, and stressed Israel will not sign a deal that undermines its security.

"There will be no peace unless terror is stopped. And terror will have to be stopped everywhere. We made it clear to the Palestinians they know it and they understand that Gaza must be part of the package and as long as there will be terror from Gaza, it will be very, very hard to reach any peaceful understanding between us and the Palestinians," said Mr. Olmert.

President Bush said he will bring up the issue when he meets Thursday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah - the West Bank headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. But Mr. Bush made clear there are also steps Israel must take, including tearing down unauthorized settlements.

"In terms of outposts, yes, they have got to go," said Mr. Bush. "Look, we have been talking about it for four years. The agreement was get rid of illegal outposts, and they ought to go."

The White House has already indicated it expects no breakthroughs on this trip, which was designed as a follow-up to the U.S.-led Annapolis Mideast conference in November. But President Bush said his visit has had an impact on the peace process. He noted that on the eve of his arrival, Israeli and Palestinian leaders met in Jerusalem and vowed to tackle the core issues blocking a peace agreement.

"If you are asking me if I am nudging them forward, then my trip is a pretty significant nudge," said President Bush.

This is President Bush's first official visit to Israel since assuming office. From Israel, he will travel to Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

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