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Bush Tells Arab Ministers He's Not Discouraged Over Peace Efforts - 2002-07-18


President Bush vowed to push ahead with plans for Mideast peace Thursday despite the resumption of suicide bombings in Israel. The president held White House talks with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

President Bush says he will not be discouraged by "enemies of peace" who he says are trying to derail moves toward a separate Palestinian state.

Mr. Bush says Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan are anxious to work with the United States to help reform the Palestinian authority because the governments all agree that peace is in their vital interest.

"Our vision of peace says that there ought to be two states living side-by-side in peace," he said. "Our vision for peace recognizes that there must be security in the region. Our vision for peace understands that too many Palestinians suffer, they suffer from lack of food and basic services. Our vision for peace understands that all parties have got responsibilities. The United States has a responsibility."

White House officials say the talks focused on restructuring Palestinian security forces and electoral rules.

The foreign ministers presented a plan for reorganizing the Palestinian Authority, including progress on writing a draft constitution. But U.S. officials say differences remain over the timing of new elections and the future of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Arab and European allies oppose U.S. demands that Mr. Arafat yield power as a precondition for an independent state.

Speaking to reporters after the White House meeting, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said no elected leader can be shut out of the process. He says the issue of Mr. Arafat did not come up in Thursday's talks with the president beyond agreeing that Palestinians must be free to choose their own leaders.

"We did not mention the question of the leadership of the Palestinians in as much as we both believe in democracy, and we both believe that it is up to the Palestinian people to choose their leaders and to elect their leaders," he said. "We are sure that all the Palestinians are willing to work with us and the United States in order to achieve the vision the president expressed.

Mr. Maher said he was "very encouraged and upbeat" about the meeting which he says reconfirmed a determination to work together to bring peace to the region.

President Bush emphasized Palestinian reform is not about Yasser Arafat as an individual. He says it is about establishing a leadership that can show Israel and the Palestinian people that it is serious about fighting terrorism.

Mr. Bush said, "The issue is bigger than any single person and our discussion will center on how to have institutions in place that will truly represent the will of the Palestinian people, that will give confidence to the world that we can spend money in a way that helps the Palestinians, that when we talk about security there are security forces there aimed at protecting people from terrorist attack as opposed to enabling people to stay in office."

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal says he was encouraged by the president's view that Israelis and Palestinians are equally responsible for pursuing peace. Following an earlier meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Saudi Prince called the quest for peace a "journey" that he says is going in the right direction.

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