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Bush Remains Optimistic About Mideast Deal


President Bush says he remains optimistic an Israeli-Palestinian deal can be reached before he leaves office next January, despite an increase in tensions in the region. VOA's Paula Wolfson has details from the White House.

President Bush says he is convinced there can be an Israeli-Palestinian agreement during the remaining months of his presidency.

"Ten months is a long time," he said. "It may seem short to you, but there is plenty of time to get a deal done."

Speaking to reporters at the end of talks with Jordan's King Abdullah, the president put the emphasis on the positive. He said he is confident Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are committed to peace.

"I am absolutely convinced that Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas understand that this is now a key moment in achieving peace," said President Bush.

But progress has been jeopardized by violence along Israel's border with Gaza, which is controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Israel responded to rocket attacks fired from the Gaza Strip with military strikes on northern Gaza. The bloodshed prompted President Abbas, whose Fatah faction controls the West Bank, to suspend negotiations.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is now in the region trying to get the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations back on track. President Bush said the United States is not trying to impose peace, but will do all it can to facilitate progress.

"This is a process that always has two steps forward and one step back," he said. "We have got to make sure that it is only one step back."

King Abdullah's public comments at the White House were brief, but he left no doubt he understands the enormity of the task ahead.

"We are very pleased with the commitment the president has to solve the longest, most outstanding issue in the Middle East - the Israeli-Palestinian process," said King Abdullah.

In a speech last Friday at Princeton University in the eastern state of New Jersey, King Abdullah called on the Bush administration to intensify its efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said if President Bush fails to bring the two sides together, it will be years before the next president will be willing to get involved.

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