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Bush, Blair Discuss Mideast, Iraq - 2002-04-06

President Bush is urging Israel to end incursions into Palestinian areas and withdraw its forces without delay. The situation in the region is dominating weekend talks between the president and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Bush family ranch in Texas.

Two days after President Bush first called for an Israeli withdrawal, he spoke out again. This time, the language was stronger.

Standing side-by-side with Tony Blair, the president issued a joint appeal. "We agree that Israel should halt incursions into Palestinian controlled areas and begin to withdraw without delay from those cities it has recently occupied," he said.

Bush administration officials have said they never expected Israel to move its forces overnight. But there has been no let up at all in Israeli military activity, with troops moving into more towns and refugee camps.

Mr. Bush was asked what he will do if the Israelis continue to ignore his appeal to withdraw. "I don't expect them to ignore it," he replied. "I expect them to heed the call."

The president left no doubt he also wants to see the Palestinians act to stop the violence and halt suicide bombings. He emphasized Yasser Arafat has not earned his trust, and has not provided the leadership the Palestinian people need.

"In order to earn my trust, somebody must keep their word. And Chairman Arafat has not kept his word! He said he would fight off terror and he has not!" said Mr. Bush.

Speaking on the eve of Secretary of State Colin Powell's departure for the Middle East, President Bush said Britain and the United States share a vision of two states: Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace. He said terrorism threatens that vision.

While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict topped the agenda for their talks, the two leaders also discussed Iraq. For Prime Minister Blair, there is no doubt Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein wants weapons of mass destruction and must be stopped. "Doing nothing in those circumstances is not an option, so we consider all the options available," he said.

Mr. Blair added President Bush is right to speak out about the Iraqi threat. "I think after the 11th of September, this president showed that he proceeds in a calm and a measured and a sensible, but in a firm way," he said. "Now, that is precisely what we need in this situation too."

The two leaders spoke to reporters in a high school gymnasium, not far from the Bush ranch. It is the same spot where President Bush and Russian President Putin took questions from students during a joint appearance last November.