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Bush, Olmert Hold Final Meeting


President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert say they continue to hold out hope for a definitive Middle East peace agreement - one year after the launch of the Annapolis process. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from the White House, where the two leaders held their last meeting in their official capacities.

In what appeared to be as much a look back as a look forward, President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke wistfully of their efforts to forge a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians.

Despite few concrete, tangible advancements in the quest for peace during the last year, Mr. Bush said the goal of a two-state solution remains worthwhile.

"We strongly believe that Israel will benefit by having a Palestinian state, a democracy on its border that works for peace," said President Bush. "And Mr. Prime Minister, that vision is alive because of you."

For his part, Mr. Olmert said the United States has contributed greatly to Israel's security by removing the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and by taking an active role in fostering a Middle East peace accord.

"You have set forth in motion the Annapolis process, which I was very proud to take part in," said Prime Minister Olmert. "It continues with your guidance and support and inspiration. And this is very important because, as you say, a two-state solution is the only possible way to resolve the conflict."

Neither leader mentioned their common concerns over Iran's nuclear program, although the topic had been expected to be discussed during the meeting.

President Bush's term ends January 20. Prime Minister Olmert, whose tenure has been marred by corruption charges, is expected to step down in February.

Given the short time remaining for the two leaders, White House spokesman Tony Fratto was asked about the goal of Monday's meeting.

"To regroup on where things stand and where we see things going in the future," said Tony Fratto. "And there are still two months of this administration. We want to see peace in the Middle East and we want to contiinue to send that message. And we will continue sending that message as long as we are here."

Fratto was also asked whether, in the final analysis, the Bush administration's efforts to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians has been a failure. The spokesman said progress has been made - much more than would be the case had the Bush administration not hosted the Annapolis Conference. He said the legacy of that initiative is a lasting dialogue between the two sides that will continue to yield positive results.

Before the Oval office meeting, Prime Minister Olmert met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney.

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