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Bush Will Lobby Mideast 'Road Map' to Peace - 2003-05-28

The White House says President Bush will soon make a major foray into personal Middle East diplomacy. Mr. Bush, after his trip to Europe starting later this week, will meet with Arab leaders in Egypt and then see the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers in Jordan to try to advance the so-called international "road map" to peace.

Mr. Bush has met Middle East leaders at the White House, but the upcoming talks in Egypt and Jordan will be his first effort at diplomacy in the region in support of the "road map" that was presented to Israel and the Palestinians a month ago.

After leaving a big-power summit in Evian, France next week, Mr. Bush will meet Arab leaders Tuesday at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. He is to go to the Jordanian port town of Aqaba the following day to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Disputes have stalled a planned meeting between Mr. Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart this week. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the three-way meeting in Aqaba would be held, "conditions permitting", though he said U.S. officials fully expect it to take place.

He said the administration is focussed on making progress on the "road map," a joint diplomatic effort of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations, aimed at a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict by the end of 2005.

The Sharm el-Sheikh summit is expected to include leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and possibly others, though a list of participants has not been released.

In comments to reporters, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that meeting is intended to line up Arab backing for the "road map and for the reformist Palestinian government of Mr. Abbas.

"We want to review the situation with respect to the road map and how to move forward," said Mr. Powell. "And I think the president is expecting a solid expression of support, not only for the "road map," but commitment of the Arab leaders to help the Palestinian authority as they restore their security capacity, their security organizations, and statements from them that continue to condemn terrorism, and increasingly isolate those organizations that support terrorist activity. And I hope that we will be able to get good statements coming out of that meeting that will demonstrate all that."

The Aqaba meeting will be Mr. Bush's first with Mr. Abbas, who took office in late April. U.S. officials say Mr. Bush will not meet with Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat, whose administration, they say, has been tainted by corruption and links to terrorism.

Before returning home, President Bush will also visit Doha in the Gulf state of Qatar, headquarters of U.S.-led military forces in Iraq.