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    Bush Urges Progress on Palestinian State

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    President Bush heads to the Middle East next week where he is hoping to encourage Israeli and Palestinian talks towards an independent Palestinian state. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

    President Bush says his job is to keep Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas focused on the big picture, despite what he says are considerable roadblocks toward an independent Palestinian state.

    "It's to give them confidence and encourage them to come up with what a state will look like, to define that state so that people there in the region can have hope that this long-time conflict will finally come to an end, and the first step is the definition of a state," he said.

    Mr. Bush spoke Friday in an interview with al-Hurra, the U.S. government's Arabic-language satellite television network.

    His trip follows-up November's conference in Annapolis, Maryland where Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas agreed to begin regular talks on a Palestinian state.

    The president leaves Tuesday for Israel and the West Bank where he will hold separate talks with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders before continuing on to Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

    Mr. Bush says he hopes to convince friends and allies in the region that there must be strong support for both Palestinians and Israelis in order to make the two-state solution work.

    The president has set the goal of having the outlines of a Palestinian state in place before he leaves office one year from now. While he admits there is a lot of work to be done, Mr. Bush says he still believes that is possible.

    "Palestinian security forces have to be reformed, which we are helping with, by the way," he said. "The entrepreneurial class of people has to be encouraged with new capital. The institutions of government need to be strengthened."

    During the trip, White House officials say the president will meet with U.S. civilian and military commanders from Iraq for an update on the fighting there. He will also press for another round of sanctions against Iran, which Mr. Bush says is crucial to force Tehran to stop enriching uranium.

    The president says he will meet with regional leaders to discuss the situation in Lebanon, where he says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the main obstacle to Lebanon's selection of a new president.

    "President Assad must understand that if he wants better relations with the United States, and frankly better relations in the region, the first thing he has got to do is stop interfering in the Lebanese presidential process," he said.

    During the trip, President Bush is scheduled to meet with U.S. troops, speak with leaders of women's groups in Kuwait, and visit a Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

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