President Bush has met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the first time since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. They conferred on the sidelines of a special U.N. summit in New York.
The president made clear he believes the next step is up to the Palestinians.
Speaking to reporters at the start of his meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Bush said Ariel Sharon made a courageous decision to pull settlers out of Gaza. He said the Palestinians must now come together and establish a government that will be peaceful with Israel, a reference to Israeli demands for a crackdown on terrorism. He also stressed that now is the time for the world to help the Palestinians, adding their Arab neighbors need to help them develop an economy.
President Bush emphasized that the Gaza withdrawal should be seen as an important step that can move the peace process forward and not as an end unto itself. And while he was lavish in his praise for the action taken by the Israeli government, Mr. Bush left no doubt he remains committed to the international blueprint for Mideast peace commonly known as the road map.
The president held only three one-on-one meetings with world leaders while in New York for the U.N. 60th Anniversary summit. He conferred on Tuesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, and followed his talks with Mr. Sharon, with a private conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.