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Bush Departs for Europe, Mideast Friday

President Bush heads to Europe Friday where he will take part in meetings of the G8 economic summit before meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jordan.

This will be the president's first trip to the Middle East and his first face-to-face meeting with the new Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas.

White House officials are trying to downplay expectations about the three-way summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, saying the president's participation is meant to give "hope and inspiration" for the leaders as they prepare to embark on a power-sharing deal leading to a separate Palestinian state by 2005.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says Mr. Bush understands that Middle East peace is a long, involved process, but he is trying to take advantage of what Washington believes is a new opportunity for the two sides to come together on the so-called "road map" for peace.

"The purpose of the summit is for the president to take advantage of this moment and exercise, what in his judgment, is his important personal responsibility as the president of the United States who can play a very helpful role in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together to help them take concrete steps to implement the road map toward peace," he said.

Mr. Fleischer went on to say the president wants to see Palestinians taking what he calls "measurable concrete actions to dismantle terrorism" and for Israelis to take "measurable concrete actions to improve conditions" for the Palestinian people.

"That's why he is going, to look the leaders of the Israelis in the eye and to look the leaders of the Palestinians in the eye and say to them, 'You must make progress. You must implement the road map. You must carry out your concrete obligations, to Palestinians on security, to the Israelis on humane treatment of the Palestinians.' And a reminder that the vision is a two-state solution. This is serious work," stressed Mr. Fleischer.

Before his summit with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers next Wednesday, Mr. Bush will discuss the peace plan with the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Bahrain.

He will also visit members of the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq at their central command headquarters in Doha. Mr. Bush says the campaign to topple Saddam Hussein has made the world a safer place, and he believes it will lead to a new era of democracy and accountability throughout the region.