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Bush, Abbas Claim Progress in Mideast Peace Talks

U.S. President George Bush and visiting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas say the Middle East peace process is heading in the right direction, even though the Palestinians and Israelis still do not have an agreement.

President Bush said that Mideast peace is a hard challenge, but "a good deal of progress" has been made.

Before meeting with Palestinian President Abbas at the White House, Mr. Bush said the world is recognizing that a two-state solution, reached through negotiations, is the right path for Middle East peace.

"I was pleased to note that the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution which confirms that the bilateral negotiation process is irreversible, is a path to a Palestinian state and a path to peace in the Middle East," he said.

Speaking through a translator, Mr. Abbas thanked President Bush for supporting the idea of an independent Palestinian state.

"You were the first sitting president who accepted as a policy the establishment of two states, the state of Israel and the state of Palestine, living next to each other in peace and security," he said. "And this policy has become a reality in every corner of the world."

Neither leader mentioned Thursday's statement by the Palestinian militant group Hamas that it would no longer honor a ceasefire with Israel.

However, Mr. Abbas, whose Fatah faction was expelled from Gaza by Hamas and now only controls the West Bank, said there is no doubt that the Palestinians will stick with the peace process.

"Because we are committed to the peace process, and this is not a slogan or a rhetorical commitment," he said. "We are practically committed to the peace process."

Mr. Abbas said Mr. Bush has laid the foundation for all future progress toward Mideast peace, and he expressed optimism about working with the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama.