U.S. President Barack Obama and his visiting Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, have expressed optimism over the possibility of moving forward on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Mr. Mubarak has made his first visit to the White House in more than five years. Mr. Obama talked with Mr. Mubarak about efforts to move the Middle East peace process forward.
With reports that Israel is quietly moving to halt new housing projects in the West Bank, Presidents Obama and Mubarak spoke of encouraging signs in Mideast peace efforts. Mr. Obama cautioned, however, that much more work lies ahead for Israel and the Palestinians.
"If all sides are willing to move off of the rut that we are in currently, then I think there is an extraordinary opportunity to make real progress," Mr. Obama said. "But we are not there yet."
President Mubarak also encouraged the Israelis and Palestinians to keep talking.
"We are speaking in a good manner, and we are moving into the right direction," Mr. Mubarak said. "But the two parties need to sit together, and this, then, will give hope that there is a possibility of finding a solution to the Palestinian issue."
Mr. Mubarak's visit to the Oval Office marks an improvement in U.S.-Egyptian relations. The two countries' ties had been strained over previous U.S. President George W. Bush's pressure on Egypt to improve its record on democracy and human rights.
Professor Denis Sullivan, director of the Middle East Center at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, says Mr. Obama's visit to Cairo in June was the first sign that relations between the two countries were improving.
"He was not just warmly welcomed, he was enthusiastically welcomed in Egypt, and continues to be a popular public figure, and there is great hope in Egypt for improved relations between the two countries," Sullivan said.
The Egyptian leader reassured Mr. Obama that his government has started to enact democratic reforms, and will continue to do so.
Although Sullivan calls Mr. Mubarak's record on human rights and democracy "horrible," he says it is important for the U.S. and Egypt to maintain their 30-year strategic partnership.
"This is where I think the Egypt-U.S. relationship is critical," Sullivan said. "From my vantage point, they do see eye-to-eye on the peace process as a whole, and how both countries are critical to advancing that peace process."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says Tuesday's meetings were part of the Obama administration's outreach to Arab countries as part of an effort to advance the Middle East peace process.
The two presidents also discussed Iraq and the Iranian nuclear program, as well as cooperative efforts on health, education and the economy.