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Bush Meets with Abbas, Olmert, Says Tough Talks Lie Ahead

President Bush welcomed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert back to the White House Wednesday, a day after the two sides agreed to resume peace talks aimed at creating a Palestinian state. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

President Bush met separately with both leaders before the three men spoke together in the Oval Office. Speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden following their talks, President Bush said the agreement to resume negotiations, after a seven-year hiatus, is a hopeful beginning but not nearly as important as the days to come.

"I appreciate the commitment of these leaders to working hard to achieve peace," he said. "I wouldn't be standing here if I didn't believe that peace was possible. And they wouldn't be here either if they didn't think peace was possible."

The White House session followed Tuesday's Middle East conference in Annapolis, Maryland where Israeli and Palestinian leaders pledged "vigorous, ongoing and continuing" negotiations toward an independent Palestinian state.

President Bush said both sides have accepted the goal of reaching an agreement by the end of 2008. And he pledged U.S. help in that effort.

"One thing I have assured both gentlemen is that the United States will be actively engaged in the process, that we will use our power to help you as you come up with the necessary decisions to lay out a Palestinian state that will live side-by-side in peace with Israel," he added.

The president said it is important for the international community to support the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Russian news agencies are quoting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying his country will host the next Middle East peace conference. He told the agencies on his way back from the Annapolis conference that the timing and agenda of that session have not yet been set.

Russia is a member of the so-called Quartet, which, along with the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations, has been working to move the peace process forward.