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Bush Administration Wants Further Progress After Mideast Conference

The Bush administration is urging Israel and the Palestinians to seize the window of opportunity created at the recently-concluded Mideast conference in Annapolis, Maryland. From Washington, VOA's Michael Bowman reports.

Basking in the afterglow of the Annapolis gathering, the Bush administration says it is up to Israeli and Palestinian leaders - along with their counterparts throughout the Middle East - to make sure that the peace initiative does not fail. President Bush's National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley:

"Having decided to pursue negotiations, it is critical that they not fail," said Stephen Hadley. "If the effort to establish a Palestinian state through negotiations is abandoned, it will appear to vindicate those who preach violence and practice terror."

Hadley was speaking at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, Wednesday.

The national security advisor said there were several factors that allowed for a diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and the Palestinians. First, he credited Israeli public opinion.

"Key segments of the Israeli public have given up the aspiration for a Greater Israel, and no longer wish to retain control over the West Bank and populate it with Israeli settlers," he said. "They have recognized that this approach, combined with current demographic trends, would threaten the Jewish character of the state of Israel. A much larger portion of the Israeli public, which once opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state, have begun to embrace the idea."

Hadley also credited Palestinian leaders like President Mahmoud Abbas for progress achieved.

"They are committed to establishing a Palestinian state, and they understand that it cannot be achieved through terror," said Hadley. "They want to negotiate with Israel for the creation of that state, and to live side-by-side in peace and security with Israel."

Nevertheless, Hadley acknowledged that challenges lie ahead, noting that, has he put it, "democratic reform comes at its own pace." Even so, he said America's freedom agenda must include the Middle East, and that the dividends of peace in the region will be great for all.